(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (2) Miami Heat
Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. Russell Westbrook vs. Dwayne Wade. Heat vs. Thunder. This is the matchup every basketball fan had been hoping for. The Heat are not only the most closely watched team in NBA history, setting ratings records seemingly every game, but they are likely the most despised as well. There will be few neutral fans in this series, as everyone who is not a Miami Heat fan will root strongly against them. The Thunder are the young guns trying to win a championship in a small market by building through the draft, something of a rarity is sports today. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden were all top 5 picks by the Thunder. In comparison, LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to Miami through free agency, joining Dwayne Wade. These teams are built around Big 3’s but it may be the role players on each side that decide this series. For the Thunder to win, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison must be able to protect the rim and not allow Wade and James to repeatedly get to the foul line. Ibaka must also make the open looks on offense he is sure to get. If the Thunder can also get offensive contributions from Thabo Sefelosha and Derek Fisher they will be very tough to stop. The biggest problem with the Thunder offense, however, is that they rely heavily on outside jump shots. James Harden and Russell Westbrook get a big percentage of their points from the jump shot. If their shots aren’t falling, the Thunder can have trouble scoring offensively. Russell Westbrook is the X Factor for the Thunder. Westbrook needs to take a step back and allow Kevin Durant to be the scorer he is. If Westbrook can run the offense through Durant and score only when needed, the Thunder will win. However, Westbrook is known as a trigger-happy guard and has the ability to shoot the Thunder out of a game.
For the Heat, they will need contributions from their entire Big 3 to win this series. I expect Dwayne Wade to play closer to the level he did in games 4, 5, and 6 against the Pacers than the level he did in the Celtics series. He cannot average 5 points in the first half and expect to win this series as he did against the Celtics. Chris Bosh will need to hit his shots to bring Ibaka or Perkins out of the middle of the lane to open up room for LeBron and Wade to drive. However, this team runs off LeBron James and if they want to have any hope of winning, they cannot get a repeat performance of last years finals. James has played exceptional all year, but it will mean nothing if he cannot finish the deal. I truly believe this is the year James turns a corner and is finally able to get past the demons that have haunted him in the Finals both last year and in 2007. The Heat will need another superhuman performance from James to have any hope of beating the Thunder. James averaged 34 and 11 against the Celtics and still trailed by 1 point with 8 minutes left of game 7. For them to win they will need gargantuan efforts from both James and Wade as well as solid contributions from Bosh and one other role player (Chalmers, Battier, Miller, Haslem). In the end I cannot see the Miami Heat losing two years in a row in the Finals. I believe that Dwayne Wade conserved some of his energy against the Celtics and will come out with high energy against the Thunder. I also expect LeBron to continue his stellar play and get the Finals monkey off his back.
My Prediction: Heat in 7