In preparation for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat tipping off the NBA Finals tonight, the staff at Thunderous Intentions answers some questions about the matchup.
1. Is OKC-MIA the best possible NBA Finals matchup this season?
Blake Potash (@FreeBigMacs): Is it the most exciting? Definitely. Best? Maybe not. Personally I would’ve loved to see a Chicago-OKC finals matchup, but with Rose out that wasn’t possible. The Heat and Thunder have two of the most unstoppable offenses in recent memory, and these games should be full of high-flying, fast-paced action.
Cody Brees (@CodyBrees): As far as entertainment, it is by far the best matchup. I am sure the NBA would have loved for a bigger market to be in the final, but the talent and pace of this series should make up for that.
Paul Brookshier (@LCredentials): Yes. This was the popular matchup pick heading into the season, and many got their wish. With the top two MVP vote getters going head to head and stars like D. Wade, Westbrook, and Harden, this has the potential to be a series for the ages. Great players, exciting story lines, what’s not to love?
2. Does Kevin Durant have to outplay LeBron James for OKC to win this series?
BP: No. It will be pretty hard to outplay the best player in the league, but if Durant manages to, the Thunder should win. The Thunder have plenty of other weapons that can carry the Thunder to victory if Durant isn’t playing lights out.
CB: Not at all. If Durant played LeBron to a stalemate the Thunder will win this series easily. Thunder have the far better role players, and as long as they step up should take a lot of pressure off Durant.
PB: No, I think the excellence of these two superstars will cancel each other out. KD will get his and the same goes for LeBron. It’ll come down to which supporting cast can play more consistently throughout the series.
3. How important is it that OKC has homecourt advantage?
BP: Fairly important. I expect the series to reach a 2-2 tie, so that means the Thunder would either have an elimination game or a closeout game at home. Oklahoma City is home to one of the best crowds in the NBA, which would help, especially in a close series/game.
CB: I would say it’s an advantage, but not a significant one. On one side it is very hard to play three straight games in Miami, but if they go back to OKC, it will be very tough to win a closeout game in OKC. It will be an advantage, but you still don’t want to come back to OKC down 2-3.
PB: When two teams are this evenly matched, and a game 6 and 7 being pretty much inevitable, I think it’s very important that the Thunder get to go back home to the always-wild Chesapeake Arena for those last two games. You’d have to imagine the noise level at the ‘Peake being in complete frenzy mode with the stakes reaching an all-time high for this franchise (in OKC at least). The Thunder still have not lost at home this postseason.
4. What is the Thunder’s greatest advantage against the Heat in this series?
BP: I’m tempted to say the bench, but against a much better defense and a younger core, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison won’t be leading the team in scoring. Both teams have relatively no front court offense and awesome wing play. So the only thing I can come up with is the home court.
CB: There is much less pressure on the Thunder. No one expected this assent to greatness this quick. All the pressure is still on LeBron. Along with that the role players for OKC have a great opportunity to help this team. We saw it against the Spurs and I expect we will see the same in this series.
PB: Russell Westbrook vs. Mario Chalmers. This is a matchup that Westbrook needs to flat-out dominate for OKC to have a chance. Chalmers did a poor job containing Rajon Rondo last series, and Russ is twice the scoring threat that Rondo is. I expect to see stretches where Dwyane Wade is switched onto Westbrook, as he was able to do a pretty good job on Rondo whenever that switch was made last series. Asking D-Wade to guard Westbrook would surely affect Wade’s impact on the offensive end though (just ask Tony Parker). I know we’re not supposed to bring up the regular season when discussing the playoffs, but Russ was a combined 15-42 shooting in the two regular season matchups between these teams. He’ll need to play much better than that for OKC to have a chance.
5. What kind of production does OKC need to get from Westbrook and Harden to win?
BP: James Harden is the key to this series. The Heat are going to have trouble finding a way to guard both him and Westbrook in the fourth quarter, without leaving Durant free to score at will. The way these playoffs have been going, Harden will be the featured ball handler in the clutch and it looks like most of these games will be close. I don’t want to give specific numbers on what they need to do to win, because I have no clue what the pace of the games will be. Shooting 50/40/90 would be a good start.
CB: Westbrook needs to, and will torch Chalmers. This is important to not only get some easy buckets, but sooner or later they will have to put Wade on Westbrook. This will take away from his late game offense helping the Thunder on both sides of the ball. From Harden all you need him to be is consistent. He still lacks the consistency to be a all-star. He needs to have one or two big games in Miami to win this series.
PB: As the case with Westbrook, Harden will have to have a HUGE series and exploit the Heat’s weak 2nd unit. I hope to see the Thunder continue to put these two on the floor together for long stretches, which will force the Heat to guard Westbrook or Harden with Chalmers. As I stated earlier, Chalmers doesn’t possesses the defensive chops to guard either of them for an entire series. With a defensive team as talented as Miami, Russ will need to continue to keep the turnovers down and limit Miami’s fast break opportunities.
6. Is there any chance Chris Bosh has a good series?
BP: Absolutely, especially with this matchup. The Thunder are going to have trouble guarding Bosh if he keeps up his recent hot streak from outside. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison should split time guarding Bosh. Collison has been one of the best defenders for OKC so far, which has been huge. I don’t expect a completely healthy Bosh, but he will definitely be the best post player on the floor.
CB: Yes. Bosh will give the Thunder the most problems. His pick and pop with LeBron or Wade is deadly. If the Thunder focus on not letting LeBron and Wade to get to the paint like I am expecting, that will leave room in the mid range for Bosh to make his living.
PB: While I’m not exactly predicting huge individual games from Bosh, I expect his presence to have a positive impact for Miami. With his ability to stretch the floor, it will force Ibaka to have to come out from under the basket, which will negate his shot-blocking abilities. I would like to see more Collison/Ibaka in the frontcourt than Perkins/Ibaka in this series, as Collison has the ability to step out and guard Bosh, or even go small with a Russ-Harden-Thabo-KD-Ibaka lineup. I fully expect to see some non-traditional lineups in this series from both teams.
7. What is your prediction?
BP: Thunder in 7. I have no clue what is going to happen in this series, except that we are going to have plenty of highlights. The starpower is insane, and it will be one of the most exciting finals I’ve watched.
CB: Thunder in 7. And you know the rule, if you pick someone to win in seven you are basically just guessing.
PB: Thunder in 6. While both team’s big 3 are fairly evenly matched, the supporting cast in OKC is far superior to that of the Heat. This along with how well the Thunder have been playing in the post season overall and the fact that they have home court advantage (think Miami is regretting tanking that final game against Washington?), I just don’t see how the Heat pull it off.