Now that LEBRON JAMES and the Miami Heat have put up (winning two must-have close-out games to defeat Boston for the East title) thereby shutting up most of their critics (at least for now), it’s on to the NBA Finals and a date with KEVIN DURANT’S Oklahoma City Thunder.
A marquee match-up of the game’s two best young stars in Durant and James, this NBA Final promises to be a series filled with furious fastbreaking athleticism, thunderous (pardon the pun) slam dunks and alley oops all generated from stifling, turn-up-the-heat defense (pun intended).
So let’s attempt to break down this social media generation Finals and predict who will come out on top with the golden globe in two short weeks.
LEBRON VS. DURANT: The superstar match-up between James and KD is as equally comparable as any in Finals history. LeBron’s playoff numbers (30.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 5.1 apg) are slightly better than Durant’s (27.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.2 apg) yet there’s no doubt these are the two best playoff performers this postseason. But this match-up goes way beyond numbers. With each team’s success in this series directly related to the performance of its superstar, it’s imperative that Durant and LeBron stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. It remains to be seen whether they will match-up against each other at the start, but they will guard each other at some point. Both are such tremendous offensive machines that I don’t see how one will have a clear advantage over the other.
MIAMI BIG THREE VS. THUNDEROUS TRIO: It may be more prudent to examine the LeBron-Wade-Bosh tandem with the Durant-Westbrook-Harden attack for a better perspective on this Finals match-up. LeBron and Dwyane Wade have learned to play off each other despite the fact that they are essentially the same type of player. Bosh’s presence (and ability to shoot the jumpshot) opens up lanes to the basket for both. Westbrook and Harden’s slashing style creates the same opportunities for Durant on the perimeter. Guarding the paint will clearly be the objective of both teams which will put an emphasis on hitting the mid-range shot. Although LeBron and Wade are capable, Bosh is the best of the big three of doing just that. For OKC, all three have that mid-range or better ability with Durant and Harden simply deadly from deep. This, I believe, will be key in this series.
THE BIGS: The Heat are not very big in the frontcourt with Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Bosh. Meanwhile, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison provide the Thunder with size, strength and toughness inside. The Heat bigs can be just as tough, but OKC has the better frontcourt. And in terms of offense, Ibaka’s mid-range game is more consistent than Haslem’s. This may prove to be big if Bosh gets worn out offensively from having to deal with Ibaka and Perkins on the defensive end.
THE BENCH: Miami’s bench has been much maligned this postseason. Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Joel Anthony and Jame Jones essentially make up the Heat bench. They did just enough to help out the Big Three in the ECF. But it was LeBron, Wade and Bosh that sealed the deal against Boston. It may take more than those three to defeat OKC. With Harden, Collison, Derek Fisher and Daequan Cook coming off that Thunder bench, head coach Scott Brooks has instant offense in Harden, championship experience in Fisher, defense and rebounding in Collison and another deadly long range shooter in Cook.
THE D: Both teams have outstanding defenses with Miami’s defense ranking slightly better than the Thunder this postseason. Both teams’ offense is generated from its defense as well. The Heat have allowed 88.1 ppg this postseason compared to OKC’s 95.6. Obviously, the Thunder are a better offensive unit but the Heat are capable of corralling some of that Thunder point production with its defensive pressure. Whichever team can collectively establish the better defensive effort will obviously win this match-up. Miami will rest its hopes on its defense.
RESULT: Seems like an easy call. Thunder got this. However, the Heat’s championship journey and specifically their Boston breakthrough makes them very capable of winning this match-up. They do have the edge over OKC in Finals experience if not the home court. And LeBron is clearly capable of skewing any Thunder advantage with his tremendous skill set. The same can be said of Wade as well.
But at the end of the day, the Thunder possess the best team in basketball. They have a more than capable superstar in Durant, an electric point guard in Russell Westbrook, who is an All-Star in his own right, a shot blocker extraordinaire in Ibaka, a post presence in Perkins, a defensive stopper in Thabo Sefolosha and the Sixth Man of the Year in Harden. Force them to win on the perimeter and they will. Try keeping them out of the transition game, good luck.
Oklahoma City has gone through four of the last five NBA champions with overwhelming force. I think Kevin Durant and Co. will make it five of the last six titlists. The forecast may call for periods of heat but significantly more thunder.
OKC Thunder in six.