2012 NBA Finals Preview: (2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (2) Miami Heat

It seems as if it was only two days ago that the Miami Heat demolished their 2011 NBA Finals opponent in the first game of the 2011-2012 NBA Lockout Regular Season. It also seemed as if it was only last night that Kevin Durant hit a buzzer-beating three pointer to defeat the defending champions. If you’re wondering if I was trying to hit on the Mavericks then yes you’re right. The first two statements in this quite long post were meant for the Dallas Mavericks. The team that eliminated the Thunder in last year’s Western Conference Finals and the Heat as well in the NBA Finals. And now, the two teams that fell to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are ready for a showdown everyone expected to happen even before the season began. Although two older teams in the Spurs and Celtics almost had a shot at preventing a new era from beginning in 2012, the young guns lived up to not only the critics’ expectations but their own expectations of themselves. Especially the Thunder, both teams showed that being young at heart doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t win a championship. Especially the Heat, both teams showed that pressure just makes a team stronger and most of all makes the superstars shine the brightest. The two teams knew very well that they could make it all the way to the NBA Finals, despite all the criticism, all the doubts, and all the stupid NBA memes. With all the things they have learned from previous NBA champions, both teams are worthy for an NBA Finals which will not only be explosive and exciting, but also showcasing each team’s resiliency and mental toughness.

The Heat have taken a lot of notes from the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics and they have dispatched them in two consecutive post seasons. The two biggest superstars (Wade and LeBron) of the Heat have both experienced pain and disappointment at the hands of the Celtics which resulted them to form a Big 3 of their own with All-Star Chris Bosh in Miami.  The addition of confident and playoff-experienced players in Battier, Chalmers, Miller, and Haslem, the Big 3 in Miami had the support they needed the same way the Big 3 in Boston found in their deep playoff runs. The Thunder on the other hand have failed then conquered against former NBA championship teams in the past two NBA playoffs.  The Thunder fell to the eventual the NBA champions in 2010 and 2011 with the Lakers and the Mavericks respectively. With the rapid growth, skill and talent-wise, in the Thunder’s three best players in Durant, Westbrook, and Harden, plus other key players in the young and forceful Serge Ibaka and the championship-experienced Kendrick Perkins the Thunder have so far pulled off, in the word’s of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, “a Hollywood storyline” in this year’s NBA playoffs. Why? Well, they swept the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, then they won in 5 games against the 2009 and 2010 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, and most recently, being down 0-2, won 4 games in a row to eliminate the heavily favored and 2007 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. The Heat and the Thunder have the talent, the youth, the speed, the mindset, the toughness, and most of all, the experience of defeating previous champions after all their past failures as a team and individually with each of their players which makes this one of the most anticipated NBA Finals since the Lakers and Celtics in 2008. And now … it’s time to shine.

The regular season series between these two clubs are at a tie. The Thunder might have the slight nudge on who really won the season series because their win over the Heat was larger than the Heat’s win over the Thunder. However, in my opinion, that is irrelevant. Not too irrelevant to the extent that I won’t look at how certain players faired against their defenders but I definitely will not use the regular season in order for me to decide who’ll win the championship. The Heat are probably the favorites entering the NBA Finals due to the simple fact that they have been there already before. This will be James and Wade’s third NBA Finals appearance, second together, and Bosh’s second appearance in his All-Star NBA career. Aside from Finals experience, the Heat’s defense is one of the best in the league and their offense isn’t that much of a different from how well they play offensively. The Big 3 of Miami will certainly be the key players in order for the Heat to win the NBA championship this year. Among the 3 superstars, LeBron James will certainly be the focal point of not only the team, but also the media. In last year’s NBA Finals appearance James had a sub par series which probably resulted into the Heat being unable to achieve a championship. So far in this year’s NBA playoffs, it seems as if LeBron James is a man, no beast, on a mission.

James’ performance in the 7-game series against the Celtics will forever stand remarkable as only two other players in NBA history has been able to get the numbers LeBron had against the Celtics. However, the Heat should not fully depend on James to carry the Heat to the championship because if he wants to do that, he could have stayed in Cleveland. Although, LeBron will certainly have to lead the way. With Wade being unable to show up in the 1st half and Bosh not necessarily known to take over games by himself ever since he joined the Heat alongside two of the three best NBA players today.  Fans and critics have somehow forgot that Dwyane Wade was an NBA scoring champion himself and that he was the last NBA scoring champ since Kevin Durant became … well … Kevin Durant. Chris Bosh on the other hand, will have to play a big role in this series, probably even bigger than Dwyane Wade with Wade probably being guarded by unshakable defender Thabo Sefolosha. Aside from making and taking jumpshots like Game 7 against the Celtics, Bosh will need to spread the floor and make shot-blocker Serge Ibaka out of the paint which would allow LeBron and Wade, or even Chalmers to attack. Outside of the Big 3,  Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem will be key in this series on both ends. Defensively, we know what these two guys could do. Battier will have to guard 3-time scoring champion Kevin Durant at times in order for LeBron to take a breather. Battier has proven himself as a great defender against great scorers in the game. Most notably, a guy named Kobe Bryant.  Haslem on the other hand will need to help out big time in the rebounding section of the game. The Thunder big men in Ibaka, Collison, and Perkins are all hard workers in the paint and with the Heat obviously lacking size inside, Haslem, alongside now-back-up big man, Joel Anthony, will have to do well on the boards. If they fail to do so, there’s nothing much to worry as the Heat’s guards and forwards are solid rebounders as well. Don’t forget that LeBron and Wade can rebound as well.

For the Oklahoma City Thunder, we all know how important their home fans are to the how the Thunder play. The Thunder so far in the playoffs are undefeated at home and have the home-court advantage going up against the Miami Heat. Just like the Heat, the Thunder will heavily need to rely on their own, underrated-but-should-be-proclaimed Big 3 in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and one my favorite NBA players today, James Harden. Multiple people might say that the more buff and muscular LeBron James can stop the Durantula. However, in their two meetings combined, Durant has averaged 29 points per game which is a good one point higher than his regular season average. So obviously, we can throw out the idea that LeBron can shut down the 3-time scoring champion. Although, just like LeBron with the Heat, the Thunder should not rely on Durant too much. Critics have always criticized Westbrook because of his questionable jumpshots. In my opinion, I’m fine if he has 20 attempts or even more attempts than Durant, just as long as he had a solid percentage. Why you may ask? Well, the Thunder need to score. With Harden coming off the bench and no other scorer outside of Durant in the starting line-up, Westbrook NEEDS TO SCORE/SHOOT. Although Westbrook has obviously proven his critics in his poor late game performances, and Westbrook has to understand that he can’t do that against a Heat team who know that it’s the NBA Finals. That’s where the lack of Finals experience comes to play for the Thunder. They have to understand that they can’t go on scoring droughts against the Heat. The Celtics showed us why as the Celtics were only able to score 8 points in the final 8 minutes in Game 7 where the Heat outscored the Celtics 20-8 after Allen gave the Celtics an 82-81 lead. This lesson goes to the Heat as well as they cannot go on much scoring droughts against the Thunder as the Thunder have shown in their own close-out game against the Spurs. Aside from the two starters of the Big 3 of OKC, 6th Man of Year Awardee James Harden will need to play BIG. Aside from bringing energy off the bench, Harden will need to be the guy to make plays down the stretch, and not Westbrook, the “point guard”. Most of all for Harden, he has to knock down those threes and of course, show off that beard.

(I know this is getting pretty long so I’ll make this paragraph short and quick) The key players outside OKC’s Big 3, will have to be Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka. I know most people would think that Derek Fisher would be a key player in this series, but I believe the Thunder will need a lot of defense in order to defeat the Heat. Fisher is still a key player in the offensive end. Why? Don’t even ask. Anyways, Sefolosha will probably be guarding either Wade or LeBron and that is not an easy task. In last year’s NBA Finals, Shawn Marion did a solid job guarding LeBron and Thabo will probably have to look into to that in order for him to guard LeBron. As for Wade, well, Thabo has been solid guarding Kobe, so Wade will probably be not much of a difference but will definitely be tougher. As for Ibaka … you gotta block those shots. Simple as that. LeBron, Wade, and even Haslem, will be coming strong at you. But don’t be too scared though … you got the best low-post defender in the NBA today in Kendrick Perkins.

FINAL WORDS: I certainly hope that this series will live up to it’s expectations. I know the Heat have a bigger chip on their shoulders than the Thunder. I know LeBron James has the biggest chip on his shoulders than any other player playing in the 2012 NBA Finals due to multiple criticisms and multiple non-championship accolades. I know the Heat can be explosive when they play together and play with aggressiveness like the final 8 minutes of Game 7 against the Celtics. But still, I believe that the younger Oklahoma City Thunder team will win it all. I will no longer doubt that they are too young or they are too inexperienced. Yes, they haven’t had any experience in winning an NBA championship or even being in the NBA’s biggest stage, but I still see it in their eyes and looking at how they play together with confidence, aggressiveness, and most of all mental toughness, no one can stop them in a 7-game series. Moreover, I don’t see anyone stopping them at home. If you think the home crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena was loud in the Western Conference Finals, you just can’t imagine how much louder they’ll get in the NBA Finals, especially with one of the most hated players in the NBA today, 3-time MVP LeBron James, on the other side.

My prediction: Thunder win the NBA championship in 6 games. Sorry LeBron … 

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