It’s the finals every body wanted.
LeBron James versus anti-LeBron James, aka Kevin Durant. The makeup of both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat could not be any more different.
Miami built their big-3 through free agency in the summer of 2010. James and Chris Bosh upped with Dwyane Wade, which of course prompted this. Meanwhile, just days after LeBron’s infamous Decision, Kevin Durant was signing a max extension with the Thunder via twitter. The Thunder have built their team through the draft. Sam Presti had a plan set out for the team, and drafted point-guard Russell Westbrook and James Harden when many deemed neither worthy of the spots in which they were selected.
Now both teams clash in what will truly be a battle of good versus evil. At least in the eyes of many.
Say what you will about the arrogance of the Heat or the humility of the Thunder, both teams will truly be battling when game 1 tips off Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
The intrigue of this series doesn’t lie in the obvious LeBron versus Durant narratives, though it will, and should, likely dominate the headlines. There are other story lines that give this series the potential to be an all time great.
1. How healthy is Chris Bosh?
We saw that the all-star power forward returned to Miami’s lineup in the Boston series, and perhaps, after LeBron James, was the teams greatest asset in game 7. Aside from 3 3-pointers, he was blocking shots, forcing turnovers and rebounding in a capacity many expected him to when he signed with Miami. In the finals, he’ll have a vital role to play as LeBron and Wade will likely be double teamed. Further, his offensive abilities mean Serge Ibaka will be forced to defend him higher, leaving the lane less clogged with opportunities for James and Wade to drive almost at will. The Heat have won 7 games this postseason by 10 points or more, 6 of which came with Bosh in the lineup. That’s not a coincidence.
2. Which bench is better?
Not sure this is even a discussion. James Harden plays for Oklahoma City. Dude can do it all. Score, pass and defend. It’s likely he’ll be called upon to defend James or Wade and different times in the series, which is no problem for him. It’s also likely he’ll have to carry the call up the court with Westbrook likely forced to dish with defensive pressure. No problem for Harden. He’s a jack of all trades that genuinely changes a game when he comes of the bench. Miami on the other hand have no legit threats coming off the pine, just players who at times can heat up for 2-3 shots in a row. The Thunder also have Nick Collison, arguably their best defender, who when Perkins and Ibaka get into inevitable foul trouble, offers no less impact.
3. Who defends Russell Westbrook?
This will a huge problem for Miami. I imagine the Heat will attempt to try Chalmers on the speedy guard, but quickly realize how ineffective that is. Surely it has to be LeBron right? James will likely defend Durant at points, and Westbrook at others simply because he has to. If the Heat don’t find an answer to the Westbrook problem, it could indeed be a quick series. I suspect they’ll figure that one out early in game 1.
4. Who controls the scoring pace?
It’s certainly fun to see both these teams run in the open court. In James and Wade for Miami and Durant, Westbrook and Harden for the Thunder you have some of the most explosive open court players in the league. The games will decided in the half-court however, not the open court. As much as LeBron has grown over the last week or so in these playoffs, his half-court offence, and that of the Heat in general has struggled. Miami at times has to run, Oklahoma City does not. They possess 3 of the best iso players in the league, but also effective pick-and-roll bigs in Collison, Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Miami lacks any real big-man threat, with the exception of Chris Bosh, with whom to run ball screens. Of course, all of this is moot if LeBron decides to take over much like game 6 against Boston.
5. LeBron James vs Kevin Durant
MVP against Scoring Champion. Enjoy.
Prediction – Thunder in 6