Oklahoma City Thunder (36-10) vs Miami Heat (32-12) Preview

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (36-10), Miami Heat (32-12)

Last time they met: First match up of the 2013-14 season (Oklahoma City Thunder 0-6 against the Heat since 2012 NBA Finals defeat)

Pre-game Notes:

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been rolling along of late, and while it has taken the odd 40 point game and game winner from superstar Kevin Durant, the Thunder have been able to put together a handy win streak which stands at 8 and counting – perhaps. Although they have been running over teams for the past fortnight, they are going to have to overcome one of the leagues best teams and an 0-6 record against the two time defending champion Miami Heat if they want that win streak to continue.

Since the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat have had the Thunder’s number. They always seem to find ways to get the job done, whether Durant gets his or not. They are multifaceted and their ability to play small ball has always troubled the Thunder. With an arsenal of different weapons, the Heat are tough to beat. Even if fans think the Heat are cruising, there is no denying they will be up and about for this one. They took care of the Spurs in the NBA Finals rematch, and they will want to bury the Thunder.

There are so many underlying stories in this one as well. From the Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant twitter beef earlier in the year (“show me, don’t tweet me”) to the race for the MVP comparison between Kevin Durant and LeBron James, there is no shortage of fuel for this fire. And it looms as an inferno. While the Thunder will still be without Russell Westbrook and not at full strength, they will want a really good showing against the Heat – for their own confidence and to understand where they are in terms of competition, but also to be taken as a legitimate title threat.

Buckle in – this one is going to be one heck of a ride.

Key Matchups:

Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James

Is there a better matchup in sports right now? Are there two better players in the league? Not at all. Here are two of the games best players, playing the same position (albeit with different game styles) and close to being right in their prime. James shows absolutely no signs of slowing down and Durant has improved in leaps and bounds and has finally closed the gap between the two superstars. We should all realise just how privileged we are to get to watch these guys go head to head. Durant has been a killer on the offensive end (38.5ppg in his past 11 contests) and will clearly be the focus of the entire Heat defence. James makes the Heat go and can beat you in such a variety of ways, there is no stopping him, you can only hope to contain him – or his teammates. The Heat will no doubt also use Shane Battier to guard Durant in a number of lineups and he has had very good success in the past. Durant is going to need to show that improved efficiency and the ability to carry the team against some of the better defenders in the game.

Serge Ibaka vs Chris Bosh

While Durant and James get all the recognition, these two power forwards are equally as important to their team and to the outcome of this game. The Thunder rely on the defensive presence of Ibaka to make up for any perimeter defensive issues. He is also essential in protecting the rim which is imperative against a team like the Heat who get out and run in transition and try to score at the rim a lot. It is going to be on the offensive end though that the Thunder are really going to need Ibaka to excel. When he is a genuine second or third option, the Thunder look a lot better – when he doesn’t, the Thunder struggle. Bosh was once seen as the third wheel of the “Big Three” but his importance cannot be underestimated. Although he has not been as consistent as in previous years, he is still one of the most important cogs in the Miami machine. Especially with Wade missing games through injury, the Heat have needed the extra lift and Bosh has been providing it.

Prediction:

Win streaks always come to and end at some stage and it would be easy to suggest that the Thunder’s might come to its conclusion here against the defending champs. They are without Westbrook – which is manageable against most teams – but when it’s the Heat, you need to be firing on all cylinders. Miami will also be fired up for this one after taking down the Spurs. They are at home where they perform extremely well and this will suit them. The Thunder have been terrific, but have been very reliant on Durant. Miami will want to shut KD down and force others to beat them – which could prove troublesome for OKC. In what could be an NBA Finals preview, the Miami Heat might just be too good at home (19-3 this season) for the Westbrook-less Thunder.

Who do you think takes the points in this one? Let us know in the comments below!

Topics: Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder

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