NBA Finals to pit best vs. best
This year’s NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat is truly a heavyweight title bout — one to put Bradley-Pacquiao to shame.
The contenders: Thunder vs. Heat
Both teams entered the playoffs as No. 2 seeds in their respective divisions — the Heat finishing 46-20, the Thunder 47-19. The two teams split their two game series in the regular season with one win each.
The Thunder are 12-3 in postseason play, including an unblemished 8-0 on their home court. The Heat are 12-6 over the same period with an 8-2 home record.
Oklahoma City is riding a four-game winning streak into the Finals after putting the Spurs away in six games.
The Heat were pushed to seven games by the Boston Celtics in the eastern Conference Finals, but beat them handedly in both Game 6 and 7. Heat forward LeBron James scored a combined 76 points in the final two victories.
It will be a matchup of strength vs. strength and speed vs. speed.
Russel Westbrook/James Harden vs. Dwayne Wade
This immediately brings up the primary advantage that the Thunder will have over the Heat; depth. Wade is an elite NBA shooting guard, but past him, the Heat are left wih the inconsistant journeyman Mike Miller — who has been injured much of the year — and a glorified D-Leaguer in Terrel Harris.
Wade’s matchup’s however, will include all-star point guard Wesbrook and 6th Man of the Year Harden. Westbrook is one of maybe three guys in the NBA who can match the speed of Wade — affectionately known by fans as Flash — which will help him stay with Wade on defense but perhaps more effectively will wear him out on offense.
And Wade will get no reprieve from the Thunder’s reserves, with Harden coming off the bench and playing starter’s minutes, the matchup will be a nightmare for the Heat. Harden plays a much slower game than does Westbrook but he is a great distributer — averaging more than three assists a game — and can get to the rim with the best of them — going to the line 6.8 times game this postseason.
This will be a position to keep an eye on, Wade will look to get what help he can from Heat starting point guard Mario Chalmers, but this could be a place the Thunder take an advantage.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra might get creative with his defensive sets to try and give his team a more favorable matchup.
Serge Ibaka/Kendrick Perkins vs. Chris Bosh
The value of Heat power forward Chris Bosh has been greatly undervalued, clearly. Since the “Big 3” of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh arrived in Miami, Bosh has been looked at as the weak link, the grouup being referred to on occasion as the “Big 2 1/2.”
Fans and analysts alike learned to appreciate Bosh though when he was injured in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Indiana, the Heat had to face the Celtics one “Big” man down, and it nearly cost them a Finals appearance.
Bosh returned for the final three games of the Boston series and contributed 19 points in the decisive Game 7.
The power forward is important to the Heat’s success.
Thunder coach will likely treat Bosh much like he treated Spurs power forward Tim Duncan and put Perkins on him. Perkins is slower than Bosh but his size and strength should slow Bosh down. Putting Perkins on Bosh frees up Serge Ibaka — who would then be guarding far less dangerous Joel Anthony — to roam, clog up the lane and contest shots from the sure-to-be driving James and Wade.
If Perkins and Ibaka can neutralize the post, they trust the Thunder perimeter players to win the game.
The main event: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
It’s widely agreed that these superstars are the top two players in the world with the three-time MVP, James, narrowly beating out the three-time scoring champ, Durant, for the top spot.
What sets this matchup apart from other marquee star-on-star fights from this year’s playoffs – like Durant vs. Dirk Nowitzki or James vs. Roy Hibbert – is that both play small forward.
That will provide plenty of one-on-one matchups between the two best players in the world.
James is playing like a man possessed this postseason, averaging 30.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. As impressive as those numbers are, Durant is not far off that pace with 27.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contest with a field goal percentage of 50.5 percent.
These two all-stars have been defined not only by consistent greatness but by singular instances of absolute dominance.
James dropped 45 points while pulling down 15 rebounds in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Heat facing elimination.
In Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Durant scored 34 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, dished five assists and blocked 2 shots.
Filling the stat sheet is something both of these players do well.
James is a bigger, more imposing force than Durant is at 6-foot-8 250 pounds. Look for him to try and post-up and overpower Durant early and often. Durant will likely look to create space, utilizing elite ball screens from teammates Perkins and reserve post Nick Collison to get some open looks.
Going head to head in 4-7 games will be a sure way to find out just who the best player in the world really is.
The wild card: Thabo Sefolosha vs. ?
In the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker had the Thunder on the ropes after the first two games. Then Thunder coach put Sefolosha on the French pick-and-roll specialist and the series changed dramatically.
Sefolosha is regarded as an elite perimeter-defender, one of the league’s best, and his performance against the Spurs proved that reputation to be true.
Sefolosha has the ability to guard any perimeter player on Miami’s roster and will certainly see plenty of time against James and Wade, and how well he keeps them from dominating could decide the series one way or another.
Round one of this title fight kicks off at 8 tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.