Miami State of Mind
1. Do you think Miami will be able to win one of the first two games in OKC?
Of course Miami is able to steal one on the road. The thing about rest, is that it gives you time to recover, watch your opponent, and you have an edge to study more film and practice a little bit more. On the flip-side, OKC isn’t a veteran team like San Antonio or Boston, so rest isn’t an issue like rust could be. With that said, these are the top two teams in the NBA, and rust shouldn’t play much of a factor if any, especially in front of the best home crowd in the league (this season at least). The excitement will be in the air and both teams are nearly unbeatable at home. But on the grandest stage full of stars and title hopes, I do see the Heat splitting the first two games with a healthier Chris Bosh.
2. If LeBron outplays Durant in this series, could the Heat still lose?
Absolutely. LeBron James has been the one constant for Miami all season long, and throughout the playoffs. He is the MVP for good reason, but Dwyane Wade has alluded a majority of his due criticism. Wade may very well be banged up, but you’re expected to perform at a high level when you get minutes on the floor. Given that Miami has a mediocre supporting cast and bench, well that’s why they invested into the big three and they have to play at the all-star level they’re capable of.
OKC is a deeper team, more balanced, and they also have different options to close a game. Not only do they have the scoring champion in Kevin Durant, but Russell Westbrook finished 5th in scoring and they form the highest scoring duo in basketball. Beyond those two, James Harden is a two-way playmaker that can takeover a game, hence the Sixth Man of the Year award. Then you have guys like Serge Ibaka who led the league in blocks, a great defender in Thabo Sefolosha, and a physical Kendrick Perkins in the paint. That’s a lot to deal with, and the Western Conference found out the hard way.
3. What is Miami’s greatest advantage over OKC?
Miami’s greatest advantage in the NBA Finals, is that they were on this stage last year. It was their first year together and we’ve all seen the obstacles they’ve overcome. The Heat had to get on the right page with chemistry, Wade was on-and-off injured this season, Bosh missed 3 weeks while they were fighting for their playoff lives, Erik Spoelstra has to learn on the fly and improve as a coach. Nothing different than most teams and their challenges, but last time I checked the New York Knicks are as talented as anybody. Phil Jackson knew which buttons to push in L.A. with big time players and egos. Miami played around with their roles and found themselves. Like with most young players, they fluctuate through trials and tribulations, and that would be the one issue I worry about with the Thunder. More times than not, Russell Westbrook is going to put up shots. He doesn’t always take a back seat to Durant as Wade does with James. It helps when Durant is off, but often times I’ve seen Durant succumb to Westbrook and that even takes Harden out of the equation. I just think Miami’s big three is more seasoned, and they will take this personal battle to the highest level of urgency.
4. What does the Heat need to do to win this series?
James can and will do it all. Wade is assertive and can takeover at any time. Bosh provides interior length on the defensive end that they missed in his absence, and he’s a guy that can score 20 points. When you down the roster: Chalmers has his moments, Battier is the defensive specialist and shoots the open 3 (Bruce Bowen style), Haslem contributes on and off the stat sheet, Anthony will alter shots in the lane, Miller can do a little bit of everything, and most importantly, this team hounds you defensively and rebound collectively for 48 minutes.
You already know what James will bring to the court on both ends. It’s just a matter of time, but Wade will make his presence felt. It gets overlooked, but besides the ability to stretch the floor with his shooting, Bosh is a good distributor. He’s been the x-factor for this team and pulled out the secret weapon against Boston, the 3-pointer. In a series where Westbrook-Harden-Durant will touch the ball every play, it’s vital for Miami to keep Bosh consistently involved.
5. What is your prediction for this series?
Either way, talks about a dynasty will conclude this series. I think Oklahoma City got to this point a year earlier than I personally expected. They’re a great franchise from the front office down, and the team has quickly played itself into elite status.
My objective opinion has the Heat winning the series, game 6 in Miami. The basketball fan in me and like most people out there, I’m rooting for this series to go the distance in an epic 7 games. The fallout of this NBA season will have a storybook ending. I see LeBron James getting his ring and officially earning the nickname “King James.” I don’t know about 5, 6, or 7 championships, but at the end of the day I see the more seasoned big three stepping up to the challenge and celebrating with the mastermind of it all, Pat Riley.
* Courtesy of Miami Heat Editor, Westley Monell – allucanheat.com
OKC State of Mind
1. Which aspect of the game will decide this series?
Aside from the matchups of LeBron-Durant, Wade-Westbrook etc., I think that the team that wins the rebounding battle and limits their turnovers will win the series. The Thunder have an opportunity with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to be a force on the offensive glass. They need to take advantage of this when they can because both teams will be playing a lot of small lineups too. The Thunder also have a bad habit of turning the ball over a lot at times. The Heat will quickly turn turnovers into points on the other end which will really put OKC at a disadvantage. If the Thunder can get a lot of offensive rebounds and second chance points and take care of the ball, they will be in great position to win this series.
2. Who should Serge Ibaka guard for the majority of the Finals?
Ibaka should guard Chris Bosh most of the time. When the Heat go small and play Bosh at the five, OKC should use Ibaka at the five as well. If OKC has Perkins and Ibaka on the floor while the Heat are going small, I’d want Ibaka on someone like Shane Battier. The Thunder are going to have to sacrifice something when Bosh is out there, either pulling Ibaka away from the paint to stick with a spotting up Bosh or living with the poor pick-and-roll defense of Perkins. At the end of the day, Bosh can be an X-factor for the Heat and Ibaka is much stronger and should be able to make scoring very difficult for him and that would be the most impactful way to utilize Ibaka on defense.
3. What does OKC need from Russell Westbrook to beat Miami?
I think they need a lot more from him than he gave in the San Antonio series. Westbrook needs to become that 23-25 points per night guy for OKC in this series with Miami mainly because I think it will be hard for Durant to be as efficient as he has been with LeBron guarding him. I’d love to see Westbrook aggressively looking for his pull-up jump shot all the time and less of him attacking the rim, unless it is to pass. If Westbrook can be a dominant scorer again, it will cause Miami to take Mario Chalmers off him and have to use Wade on him instead. If Wade and LeBron both have to work very hard on defense guarding Westbrook and Durant, I think that will be a very good sign for the Thunder.
4. Where does the Thunder have an advantage over the Heat?
Overall, I think the Thunder are deeper than Miami, especially inside. The Thunder should be able to dominate the glass, getting a lot of offensive rebounds and allowing few. I feel like Miami doesn’t have much rim protection either and the Thunder’s ability to score in isolation situations and at the rim will be a real weapon for them. James Harden is probably the biggest advantage in this regard. If he can find some rhythm in the pick-and-roll then his assault on the rim will make it near impossible for Miami to win. Durant-Westbrook vs. LeBron-Wade is almost a wash and maybe slightly in favor of the Heat so the Thunder’s superior role players will be crucial for them to win the series.
5. Who wins the championship?
I think the Thunder win in seven games. Having home court is huge for them and it is really hard to even imagine them losing a game at home. I think the Thunder will protect home court in the first two then Miami will come back to tie the series at 2-2. Then I think the road teams win Games 5 and 6 with the Thunder winning a Game 7 at home. LeBron will have a huge series with huge numbers but I think Durant makes him work harder than he has so far for those numbers. The Heat have had an easy road to the Finals even though they didn’t make it seem easy. The Thunder were tested and passed with flying colors. I don’t think that ends in the Finals especially since they have home court advantage.
* Courtesy of OKC Thunder Editor, Andrew Kennedy – thunderousintentions.com)
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