1. Will the Heat steal a game on the road in the first two games?
Vytis: They are more than capable to do so. Sooner or later they will have to steal a game on the road if they want that championship, and I think it’s crucial they get one on their first trip to OKC. With the 2-3-2 format in the finals, you don’t want to go down 2-0 heading home. It will probably take at least a game for Miami to adjust to the tempo of the series. Oklahoma City Thunder is a young, quick and athletic team and it will definitely be a challenge for the Heat. I say they get one on the road, probably game 2, and if they don’t they will be in trouble.
Brian: Likely, with 2 being a possibility. Crazy? Perhaps, but I think if anyones been watching, the anything-can-happen factor is alive in well during the 2012 NBA post season. If the HEAT draw first blood, it will be the Thunder’s first home loss which could domino into two very quickly if they can’t recover.
Brandon: Yes, I think Miami’s talent and experience level gives them a chance to win a game in any NBA arena. The leaders on the team have been here before and will probably not get rattled by the loud OKC fan base. They younger guys, maybe, but that’s why there are veterans.
2. What is the one aspect of the game that could decide this series?
Vytis: Honestly, it’s difficult to select just one. There are so many great matchups and the play of the big 3 of both teams will obviously be a key factor. Perhaps the obvious answer is the play of LeBron James. We have witnessed amazing performances by James in these playoffs, and I think it is safe to say that the Heat is now his team. He himself put his pride aside and admitted that he played bad in last year’s finals, not claiming that while he struggled offensively he helped Miami on defense. He knows he has to be great at all times, and this will be a defining moment in his career. He has to carry the Heat.
Brian: Experience. The HEAT’s rollercoaster ride over the past two years, the headlines, the media…suffice it to say this ain’t their first rodeo. This is Udonis Haslem, Dwane Wade and LeBron James’ 3rd Finals, and a whole bunch of players on their 2nd trip. OKC has Derek Fisher with more rings than fingers practically, but the Thunder will need more than campfire tales and verbal direction coming off the bench to cool off the HEAT, especially through adversity.
Brandon: We have all heard the cliche defense wins championships. I understand everyone is excited to see if LeBron James will outscore Kevin Durant and vice-versa. On the other hand, the victories will come down to whether or not Dwyane Wade can hold Russell Westbrook. Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh are going to have to work extra hard to stop Serge Ibaka’s improving mid-range shot and if Durant, Harden and Westbrook are all on the floor at the same time, who is going to help James and Wade guard the perimeter. I don’t think Chalmers can stop Westbrook, which could be a huge problem.
3. What does Miami need to do offensively?
Vytis: With Bosh on the floor, Miami’s offense becomes that much more dangerous. The fact that you can’t leave Bosh open at anytime, anywhere on the floor opens up driving lanes for Wade and James. It will be important to make sure that Ibaka isn’t able to camp around the box and swat shots away, as he is the best shot blocker in the league. As always getting out in transition will be key, and I’d like to see Miami pushing the ball at all times. At the end of the day, the aggression of Wade and James will define Miami’s offense, and the role players will have to knock down shots.
Brian: Two things: Floor spacing for one, which they have done very well with the return of Chris Bosh. The HEAT will always aspire to getting the open shot, and when defenses either stay-home in single coverage, or jump at the bait from James with the ball…Bosh, Wade, Miller, Battier or Chalmers with open looks, 3 pointer or otherwise is trouble. The worst shot in this sequence, more often than not is James driving to the paint or getting the pull up jumpshot. Let that statement sink in for a moment-scary stuff. Second-Bench play. The HEAT have a mathematical formula for success on offense. While Miami is known for it’s defensive mentality, the key here is the bench’s offensive production. The closer the bench gets to scoring 20 in any given game, with any rotation the HEAT choose to use, the greater their chances to win will be, as the Wade/James/Bosh trio will provide the obligatory 70 in some fashion together.
Brandon: Move. They can not simply run isolation plays for their superstars and hope baskets go in. The Thunder have the most athletic defense Miami has seen in the playoffs. A one-trick pony will not work against the young, quick, strong OKC bodies. Pass the ball around and create open shots.
4. What does Miami need to do defensively?
Vytis: Do the impossible – stop Durant, Westbrook and Harden. LeBron James will have to be in tune for the whole 48 minutes and limit Durant as much as possible. Westbrook constantly attacks the basket, and if he’s going off try trapping him on pick and rolls or throw different defenders at him. OKC love getting out in transition and Miami will need to get back on defense and take care of the ball. During the regular season OKC turned the ball over a lot, and if Miami can play the passing lanes correctly and get some steals, it should help fuel their offense at the same time.
Brian: Clock in. Seriously, they are a defensive team by identity, anything other than that would be like saying the HEAT need to wear some combination of White, Red and Black on gameday. There will be schemes and points of focus no doubt, with some very VERY interesting and entertaining matchups between Durant/James and Westbrook/Wade, or however they line up together. Miami’s defense will surely be the Thunder’s greatest test this post-season.
Brandon: Help. Westbrook, Harden and Durant crash the paint as much as possible. If they get in there, the Heat’s big guys have to step up and either draw charges, or block and disrupt shots.
5. What does OKC need to do offensively?
Vytis: They have 3 main weapons in Durant, Westbrook and Harden. When the three are on the court together they are really hard to stop. Durant will need to establish an offensive rhythm, with one of the best individual defenders in LeBron James guarding him. Westbrook has to drive and make the Miami defense work. The Heat can live with Westbrook settling for jumpers. Ibaka is also capable of scoring the ball when needed.
Brian: Efficiency on offense. What the Thunder remind me of, is what the Bulls would have looked like if LeBron chose Chi-town over Miami 2 years ago. 2-3 All stars on the squad, Fast, physical, young, promising…but, an All-Star point guard that will get his 30 points shooting 10 times or 50 times. Westbrook brings this quality for better or worse to the Thunder, and they will need a smart basketball showing from him and Durant with limited turnovers if it’s going to stay close and competitive.
Brandon: Crash the paint. The Heat are thin in the low post and if Anthony is sitting on the bench, the inside defense for Miami is rather weak.
6. What does OKC need to do defensively?
Vytis: Durant has improved a lot defensively, but he still shouldn’t be able to stop LeBron James. If he can limit LeBron, possibly with the help of his teammates, Miami will undoubtedly struggle. Thabo Sefolosha is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and will have the challenge of stopping Wade. Since James and Wade love getting to the rim, Ibaka will have to make sure he comes out to help and blocks shots, to force the two Miami stars into taking jumpers.
Brian: Stay out of the headlines. The Thunder need to play physical and tough which they do so well, but stay away from fake-toughguy headline basketball when things start getting too rowdy. The HEAT’s team and core comes in peace, but can leave the other team in pieces once the blood flies and flagrant foul basketball begins. That, along with finding out a way to defend LeBron James, keep him under 40 points and off the foul line.
Brandon: Watch the passing lanes. Miami’s offense becomes stagnant when they run too many isolation plays. There is no movement and if shots are not going down for James and Wade, the game is very winnable for the Thunder. If there is a hand in the passing lanes, the Heat’s offensive is limited and could become extremely stagnant.
7. Who wins the championship?
Vytis: My heart says Miami, my head says Oklahoma. I think, despite their age, Oklahoma City Thunder have a better team overall. They are extremely tough to match up with, have a lot of guys who can score the basketball and are solid defensively. Regardless, I think this one means too much for LeBron James to let go. If he doesn’t get over the hump this time around, I don’t know if he ever will. I’m following my heart and going for Miami in 7 games!
Brian: HEAT in 6
Brandon: I think the Thunder are too deep for the Heat. They have Durant, Westbrook and Harden to match James, Wade and Bosh. Miami’s problem is they don’t have much more after that while the Thunder have people who will be productive offensively and defensively in Ibaka, Sefolosha, Derek Fisher. The Heat can win but Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mike Miller have to be productive in every game, not hit and miss. I trust the Thunder’s role players better than Miami’s…OKC in 6.