First it was Sunday’s game against the Spurs, a rematch of last season’s NBA Finals, albeit one marred by injury. This Wednesday, the Heat (32-12) face their 2012 Finals opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder (36-10).
OKC will present Miami with their toughest challenge this season. Despite losing All-Star guard Russell Westbrook to injury in December, the Thunder have continued to surge and now lead the Western Conference. This isn’t surprising given the MVP-caliber play of Kevin Durant, who has strung an impressive 11 consecutive games of 30+ points. Durant’s incredible shooting range has led OKC to several come-from-behind victories, including Monday’s victory over Atlanta. Durant, recently dubbed the “Slim Reaper” by the media, has been killing opponents across the league, averaging almost 39 points per game in the last five contests.
And while Durant is clearly the best player in OKC – if not the league – the Thunder sport a great supporting cast that includes Reggie Jackson (starting in Westbrook’s place and putting up 14 points and 4 assists per game), the lane-clogging Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, a tough rebounder and defender that has expanded his scoring repertoire this season. OKC’s bench is led by Jeremy Lamb (10 PPG) and the ageless Derek Fisher, as well as two very aggressive frontcourt players, Nick Collison and rookie Steven Adams.
For Miami, the challenge is simple. Dispatching an older Spurs lineup missing three starters was a fine accomplishment; defeating the Thunder will be a true test.
The telecast of this game begins at 7 P.M. on ESPN from the American Airlines Arena. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.
The Big Three Questions for the Game:
Can the Heat Limit Durant?
Probably not. KD has simply become the best scorer in the game right now (quite a feat considering Carmelo Anthony’s recent 62 point binge). His range is phenomenal, his length provides a challenge for any defender and he is deceptively-quick. Miami, when fully-engaged, is the best defensive team in the league. It will be interesting to see if LeBron James starts the game guarding Durant, who currently leads James in this season’s MVP race. If James accepts the challenge and remains committed on both defense on offense, this could be the statement game needed to show he’s not ready to give up the trophy just yet.
Will Wade Come off the Bench?
As of this time, no. It will likely be a game-time decision, one that was made by Wade prior to the San Antonio matchup on Sunday. Wade has said he doesn’t have “an ego” that requires him to start but, if healthy, he represents Miami’s best opportunity to establish an early lead. After three days’ rest and participation in several charitable events, it’s likely Wade will start in this potential Finals preview.
What’s the Deal With Greg Oden?
He’s progressing and played 13 minutes on Sunday, his most this season. Oden has played in three consecutive games, seeing increased action in each, and the work has paid off. While his stats were limited (3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block) against the Spurs, his immense presence was a factor on offense and defense, providing an easy target for teammates driving the lane as well as an obstacle for San Antonio. Although his speed and reaction time are still limited, there’s been improvement and he was even explosive on a fourth-quarter drive that drew a foul. Patience is the key but Miami’s players and front office are encouraged, by what they’ve seen and what the future could be with Oden in the playoffs.