It has been a long road from the 2011 NBA Finals to now. Following the Dallas Mavericks raising the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy last season, the NBA players and owners went through a brutal work stoppage. The strike lasted 160 days causing the 2011-2012 NBA regular season to be shortened from 82 to 62 games.
The Heat and Thunder will start the NBA Finals tonight in Oklahoma City. This series contains many story lines most of which revolving around their respectable stars. LeBron James is trying for his first championship in his 9 year NBA career while Kevin Durant one of the league’s brightest young stars is trying to carry a young franchise on his shoulders and lead them to glory in s a short amount of time.
We will preview the series in this in depth match up.
Both organizations have very strong leaders. The Miami Heat are lead by Pat Riley one of the NBA’s most respected coaches and General Managers. After winning a championship back in 2006 and having limited success in the following three seasons, Riley reshaped the roster by clearing cap space to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010 to go along side Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, and Mario Chalmers. He then went out and signed solid veterans in Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Juwan Howard to shape his roster. In their first year together they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 6 games. This year the Heat added rookie Norris Cole to the mix who plays a role for the team off of the bench. Most of the building of this roster was by spending cap room money and surrounding their assets with solid veterans. They have one of the best players in the league in James, and one of the more versatile big men in Chris Bosh. Riley is trying to win the second championship in Miami Heat history
HEAT DRAFT PICKS
2003 Dwyane Wade 1st RD 5th Pick
2011 Norris Cole 1st RD 28th Pick
2010 LeBron James from Cleveland Via Trade
2010 Chris Bosh Via Free Agency
2010 Mike Miller Via Free Agency
2011 Shane Battier Via Free Agency
Sam Presti is one of the league’s top executives for many reasons. He doesn’t have the luxury of deep pockets to spend on free agents. In five years he reshaped his roster moving Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis for draft picks and cap flexability. He cashed in on his draft picks and veteran signings. Presti has gone against the grain on the drafting of Westbrook in 2008, Ibaka in 2009, and Harden in 2010. He has maximized his draft picks and free agent signings to build the Thunder to a Championship caliber organization in 5 short years.
THUNDER DRAFT PICKS
2007 Kevin Durant 1st RD 5th Pick
2008 Russell Westbrook 1st RD 4th Pick
2009 Serge Ibaka 1st RD 24th Pick
2010 James Harden 1st RD 3rd Pick
2009 Thabo Sefolosha from Chicago Via Trade
2009 Eric Maynor from Utah Via Trade
2010 Daequan Cook from Miami Via Trade
2011 Kendrick Perkins from Boston Via Trade
2011 Nazr Mohammed from Charlotte Via Trade
RUSSELL WESTBROOK vs MARIO CHALMERS
Westbrook and Chalmers are on two different levels and play two different styles all together. Both are not true point guards by a purist’s definition but play big roles in their respective team’s success. Westbrook is an explosive shot out of a cannon athlete that can get in the lane and take over a game with his size, athletic ability, and strength. His shooting has improved dramatically in the past couple of years which has been a big reason that he was considered on of the NBA’s top point guards. He’s also has improved with his overall consistency although sometimes is out of control with his shot selection and turnovers, but has been a driving force in OKC’s title run. Chalmers plays a different role for his team as he initiates the offense, but doesn’t have the ability to get in the lane and penetrate like Westbrook does. His offense is mostly consisted of spacing the floor on the weakside and making deep jump shots. Defensively it’s not even close as Westbrook is a far superior defender to Chalmers. Since Wade and James does so much handling of the basketball clearly the advantage here goes to Westbrook and the Thunder.
THABO SEFOLOSHA vs DWYANE WADE
This is another case of two players that play completely different roles as well as are on two completely different levels. Thabo Sefolosha is the Thunder’s stopper. His size and length make him very tough to score on. He’s developed into one of the NBA’s top wing defenders having to defend his opponent’s top offensive weapon night in and night out. Offensively he spots up and makes open shots on OKC’s penetration and kicks out to him on occasion as well as in transition and offensive putbacks. His role simply is to have an impact on the defensive end and to stay out of Durant,Harden, and Westbrook’s way on the offensive end by spacing out on the weakside and spotting up for jumpers or cuts to the basket on good spacing. Dwyane Wade is a focal point of Miami’s offense. He scores on isolations, pick and rolls, and post ups. His superior athletic ability , toughness, and strength, puts Wade at the elite level of players in the NBA. His lack of consistency making shots could be a factor, but his ability to get in the paint and be a scoring threat as well as his transition offense could be a huge factor for the Heat in this series. Sefolosha could have the bigger impact on this series if he forces Wade into tough contested shots and minimize his performance. If he can do that I don’t see much of a chance for the Heat in this series.
KEVIN DURANT vs LEBRON JAMES
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that this is the matchup of the series. James is the League’s MVP for the 3rd time in his career, while Durant is the NBA’s three time scoring champ. Both players are obviously the main options offensively for both clubs. This matchup will most likely decide the series. Durant is one of the league’s top shot makers. He’s a threat anywhere on the floor as he can spot up from deep, score on isolations, pick and rolls, and on post ups. At 6’10 he’s a matchup nightmare with his ability to shoot over any wing matchup as well as drive by any bigger foe. He shoots 50%,36%, and 87% from the 2,3, and free throw line respectively during the playoffs. Do top it off his 9 free throw attempts a game make him an even tougher cover. Durant is one of the league’s toughest covers. LeBron James is the only player in this series that can dominate on both sides of the floor. Most of his offense is from isolations and screen rolls. When LeBron is at his best is when he’s in the open floor. His ability to come at his opponents full speed on screen and rolls makes him such a tough cover. His vision makes him an even bigger threat when he gets in the lane forces defenders to double and to find his open teammates spotting up and cutting. The one dangerous part of LeBron’s game that can give OKC an advantage is if LeBron has a steady diet of tough shots on isolations which can lead to a lot of OKC points in transition. LeBron can change the game for the Heat with his ability to defend four positions. The Heat as well as OKC can go small with James and Durant playing power forward. LeBron’s ability to guard people as well as dominate on the offensive end gives him the edge over Durant at the small forward position.
SERGE IBAKA vs CHRIS BOSH
This match up is a very important one for both teams. Bosh is the best post scoring threat in this series. Ibaka is the best defensive post player in this series which puts a very big importance to this matchup.Ibaka doesn’t provide a lot of offense for the Thunder in the half-court on the block, but is a very good shot maker from 15-17 feet on pick and pops as well as spacing out on drive and kicks by the Thunder guards. His role on this team is as a shot blocker and post defender. Ibaka’s impact can be big one fo the Thunder protecting the rim and blocking/altering shots by Miami all series. His ability to put back easy baskets in the paint as well as ducking in from the weak side can be huge for OKC. Chris Bosh was the main factor in the Heat getting by the Celtics in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. His ability to score on the block as well as space out OKC’s defense can be huge for the Heat. If he can score against the frontcourt of Ibaka and Perkins can be a big boos to the Heat. I think the Heat need to run steady offense through Bosh and space the floor. If they can do this not only can they get points on the block, but also space out on the perimeter and pass out to spot up shooters and cutters. Defensively Bosh can help protect the rim with his length and size.
KENDRICK PERKINS vs UDONIS HASLEM
The Heat may go another direction with their starting lineup and start Bosh here and go small, but if they do go with Haslem at Center/Power Forward it can give them more toughness in the frontcourt, although they can go small and force the OKC to break up their frontcourt and go small themselves. Perkins gives OKC toughness and rebounding inside. He’s the best screener in the game which gives OKC’s ball handlers and perimeter players open opportunities. He doesn’t have an impact as a scorer, but his toughness, screen setting, and size plays a big role for the Thunder. Haslem gives the Heat the same toughness and veteran leadership. Look for both players to play tough and give their respective teams big minutes.
This will be the deciding factor in this series. The Thunder feature the best 6th man and one of the best shooting guards in the league in James Harden. He’s the most efficient shooting guard in the NBA. His ability to make shots and drives to the mid range/rim makes him so tough to guard. Even though he comes off the bench Harden provides a huge scoring threat for the Thunder. He’s had an outstanding impact for the Thunder all season long. He is the X Factor in this series and both sides know it. Nick Collison is one of the NBA’s top tem defensive big men in the league. He provides such an impact with his Basketball IQ, toughness and energy. He doesn’t score a lot , but his ability to rebound the ball on both ends as well as take charges gives the Thunder a solid boost off the bench. Daquan Cook provides shot making ability off of the bench. Nazr Muhhamed will give the Thunder solid minutes backing up Perkins when needed. The Heat will go with Shane Battier to give them defensive help off of the bench as well as a shot maker in the corners. His veteran leadership and toughness will help the Heat in this series. Mike Miller will provide the Heat with a shot maker and veteran to give their perimeter players rest. THey will need his scoring and shot making. Look for Juwan Howard to provide some minutes to the Heat frontcourt if they get in foul trouble early. Ron Turiaf will give them help in the frontcourt for the Heat as well as Norris Cole can provide Chalmers some needed help off the bench and provide a spark offensively.
This series will be a hard fought one for sure. The Thunder will try to prove to the basketball world that they are for real. People are saying that experience will be a factor and since it is their first finals appearance that they will be effected by that. I tend to say that since they lost two years ago to the Lakers in 6 games, last year losing to the eventual champion The Dallas Mavericks as well as beating the Lakers and Spurs that experience will have little to no impact on the Thunder.
LeBron James is probably the most scrutinized player on the planet. His impact on the Heat as a team has been amazing this season. He is the best player in this series and can impact the game on both ends of the floor. I expect Wade, James, and Bosh to have a huge impact on this series, but it wont be enough. The bench of the Thunder as well as Durant’s and Harden’s shot making ability will prove to be too much for Miami. I expect the Heat to win one of the first two road games in the series, but the Thunder will wear them down. Miami has too much of a steady diet of tough isolation shots, and can’t withstand that for a 7 game series especially with OKC’s ability to score in transition.
My prediction is OKC in 6 games.