Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with David Ramil of

Dec 3, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) is pressured by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) is pressured by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder play Sunday. Both teams are in an interesting position, with so much of this season and the following seasons tied into everything they do. Wes Goldberg, editor of All U Can Heat, and David Ramil, editor of Thunderous Intentions talk about the upcoming game and the futures of the organizations.

Wes: The Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder face off on Sunday. Boy, how these two teams have changed since 2012. Back then, Miami was the Big 3 and OKC was the Big 3 In Waiting. Those identities were set and we thought we could be seeing that Finals matchup for years to come. Then, all of a sudden, things changed with both teams losing MVP caliber players. Now the Heat are looking for an identity within their split personality roster, and the Thunder are trying to do the “here and now” plan as they try to go for a title and keep Kevin Durant in town. The Thunder seem to be on the up and up heading into Sunday’s game, while the Heat are floundering (it doesn’t help that Goran Dragicis out). Still, when these two teams met earlier this season it was a GREAT game that came down to the wire. What do you expect this time around, and what do you make of these two teams heading into Sunday?

David: I think I speak for a lot of Thunder fans that the title window from 2012-2015 wasn’t necessarily closed by the loss of an MVP-caliber player (with the exclusion of James Harden, who wouldn’t have developed into the version that we’ve seen in Houston had he stayed in Oklahoma City). Injuries to each of OKC’s “Big 3” is what derailed the potential Thunder/Heat Finals matchups that we were robbed of seeing. It’s hard to predict what might happen on Sunday, if for no other reason that both of these teams have been inconsistent at times throughout the season. Dragic’ injury makes things harder for Miami but I believe the shellacking they took in L.A. to be an inspiration for them. Veterans like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng simply have to much pride to be beaten so soundly twice in a row, so I expect them to be as engaged as ever. Both teams are very capable, talented and deeper than most would believe and yet they both find themselves as only quasi-contenders in their respective conferences. How realistic is it to see either – much less both – of these teams in the Finals in 2016?

Wes: That an interesting question. While the gap between the top of the East and Miami is far less than the top of the West and the Thunder, I’m reluctant to say that the Heat have a better chance of making the Finals than a team with two of the top five or six players in the NBA. However, the Cavaliers are injury prone and, if the dominoes don’t fall the right way for them, could be outed in the playoffs. I mean, LeBron has been to five straight Finals! That has got to catch up to him at some point, no? To me, the Heat are right there with the Bulls, Hawks and Raptors for contending for that second seed. That second seed will be extremely important in order to dodge the Cavs for as long as possible and let the wear and tear catch up with them. If the Heat can grab that second seed, there is a chance they make the Finals. Rather than Heat fans talk about beating the Cavs or making the Finals, grabbing the 2 seed should be the focus. Meanwhile, OKC will almost surely have to face the Warriors or Spurs in the second round. If they were to somehow beat one of those teams, they would likely face the other in the Western Finals. Whoof. As it stands, the Thunder have the toughest road in the NBA to the Finals.

David: No denying that OKC’s road is paved with multiple challenges. But, theoretically, the injury issues that have plagued them in recent seasons could finally balance out against the ageless wonders in San Antonio, not to mention the historically-great Warriors. After all, we’ve recently seen what happens when you remove Steph Curry or Draymond Green from the equation – two of their three losses this year (talk about trying to find a silver friggin’ lining…) There’s no denying that the Thunder has been very, very good this year; definitely among the top four teams in the league. At any other point in recent history they’d look like a lock to make the Finals but, instead, they’re stuck in the Spurs’ and Warriors’ rear-view mirror. The team hasn’t gelled as much as had been hoped with the addition of Billy Donovan and their defense has been an issue. It’s tough to consider this season a complete success given their current place in the standings but anything is better than last year’s mess of a team. Similarly, Miam’s clearly better today than they were a year ago but I’m not sold on whether or not it’s been a good year for them, either.

Wes: Progress is progress, and most teams would be happy to be where both the Thunder and Heat are this season. However, as you allude to, the Thunder and Heat are not most teams. They want to win and want to win now. And, given how big this summer could be for both teams, they kinda sorts need to win now. At least something over expectations. Las Vegas would probably set both teams’ over/under at the second round of the playoffs, but fans and the teams themselves probably won’t be happy with just that. But let’s step back for a second. Smart people are saying that this is not the summer of a free agent Durant, but in 2017, when he can command 30 percent of an even larger cap. Some experts are saying he could get as much as $26-29 million a year. That gives Donovan and the Thunder at least one more year after this to prove to Durant that Oklahoma City is the best spot for him. Given how OKC’s roster still has some holes and the team has, like you said, yet to gel under new leadership, next year could be the year of real expectations. As for Miami, they have a mix and match roster that doesn’t really match. Wade and Whiteside are best playing slow. Bosh and Dragic are best playing in a pace-and-space system. Something has to give, and with both Wade and Whiteside being free agents this summer the Heat have some decisions to make. This off season figures to be a key time for Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra to decide what direction this version of the Heat will go in. What this all boils down to is that this is a transition year for both organizations.

David: Yeah, I had originally expected this season/next summer to be the pivotal moment in OKC franchise history. Instead, it seems likely to be somewhat anticlimactic until KD makes a long-term commitment, either to the Thunder or someone else. What’s worse is that Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will also be free agents at that point, meaning that all three could re-sign – or sign elsewhere – within the next year-and-a-half. And, unlike Miami, Oklahoma City just doesn’t have the same pull in regards to free agents. They’re not able to simply rebuild the team the way Riles has done throughout his tenure.

Still, this is an issue that may or may not ever be of consequence. The pressing matter is this Sunday’s game, where OKC will play a team that seems to be dealing with both physical and psychological issues. How do you see it panning out?

Wes: I’m just going to come out and say it: This Heat team has some psychological issues. Too many times this season have they needed a rallying cry or motivational speech at half time just to get their sh*t together for a regular season game. They, as Erik Spoelstra so eloquently put it, “stunk up the place” when they gave up a 16-point lead to the Clippers Wednesday. For a team highly regarded as a “veteran team” that has that vague concept of “know how” it’s strange that they so often need the kick in the behind that they do. Do the Warriors or Spurs need that? No. The Heat is a team that isn’t acting its age. I don’t know if that’s a sign of a turned over locker room or a lack of an X’s and O’s identity as we discussed before, but it’s very concerning regardless of the reason. As for the game Sunday, I have no friggin’ clue as to what Heat team will show up. But I imagine that Thursday’s loss to LA will act as a rallying point and the motivation this team needed. So, I’ll say this team gets up for the Thunder like they got up for the Warriors and like they got up for the Clippers in the first half. I imagine this being close for at least three quarters, but Goran Dragic’s absence could ultimately give the Thunder a big edge.