Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (43-12), Miami Heat (38-14)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (112) defeated Miami Heat (95)
In the second showcase between these two sides, there are a number of underlying issues and storylines that have an already much-anticipated match up at fever pitch. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, this is their first encounter after the All Star break. They will want to kick things off with a win at home and they will want to show the basketball world that their victory over the Miami Heat at the end of January was not a fluke. The Thunder overcame a very sluggish start and wore down the Heat who committed turnover after turnover and allowed the Thunder not just to get back into the game, but to run away with it.
This time, the Heat will want revenge. In their post All Star break run last season, the Miami Heat took no prisoners on their way to 27 straight W’s. LeBron James looked very ominous the other night against the Dallas Mavericks where he lit up every stat category. The Heat will want to take advantage of this as well as flex some muscle over the Thunder. They had previously won the past six encounters against OKC going back to the 2012 NBA Finals and will want to again create some doubt in the young Thunder team’s mentality.
Russell Westbrook trained fully with the team and has been listed as a game time decision. Kevin Durant mentioned that Russ would play but has since softened his stance on that topic. Either way, we are in for a terrific game with some of the NBA’s best talent on display. This is the final showdown between the two sides and they can only ever meet again this season in the NBA Finals – so make sure you tune in.
Kevin Durant vs LeBron James
The two best players in the game – period. Different games, different ways of dominating play but two of the best talents we have seen in the past decade. It is a team sport no doubt, but these two locking horns again is going to be very exciting. Last time, both players were able to display their full arsenal and lead their teams, but the Thunder got the win. James and Durant also went at each other during the All Star game which was a “friendly” encounter and this matchup will have a lot more heat on it. While I would expect them to play on each other for spurts, the previous game suggests Perry Jones will also see a LOT of the in-form “king”. The race for the MVP takes another interesting twist when these two go at it in this one and whoever can dominate and lead their team to victory might just have the edge.
Serge Ibaka vs Chris Bosh
When the Thunder were putting this team together, there was no doubt that they needed to find themselves a “Bosh”. That means a third scoring option who can hit the jumper with range, rebound, block shots and run the floor. Ibaka has developed brilliantly into this type of player and well, Bosh has always been that type of player. These two are wonderful to watch and while they sometimes get lost in all the commotion that surrounds Durant and James, they are integral pieces to the puzzle. If Serge gets 20 and 10 while blocking 3 or more shots and starting the Thunder in transition – the Thunder likely win. If Bosh knocks down the outside jumper and plays solid defense forcing Ibaka to shoot a poor percentage – the Heat take the W. You cannot underestimate this matchup.
Russell Westbrook / Reggie Jackson vs Norris Cole / Mario Chalmers
It’s the point guard battle regardless of who is in uniform and who isn’t. In the January 29th encounter, the Thunder were able to put immense pressure on the Heat ballhandlers and forced a huge number of turnovers. The Thunder were able to capitalize on this and get themselves a plethora of baskets in the paint and in transition. More importantly though, it took the Heat out of their usual structures and didn’t allow them to execute effectively. Whether it be Reggie or Russ running the point in this one, the outcome needs to be the same. They need to force turnovers from the Heat backcourt and limit their own. Some supplementary offensive output will also be welcomed and essential if they want to find themselves on the winners list after 48 minutes.
It is always very hard to bet against the Thunder at Chesapeake Arena, but when it is the two time, defending champion Miami Heat – it makes things a little easier. The Heat have won in this building on the biggest stage. They are boasting an in-form franchise superstar and MVP in James and it looks like they will take a full lineup into this one. The Thunder closed out the first half of the season with a good solid win over divisional rivals Portland and scraped home against the Lakers. They are at home and have had a few days off and would like to take this one and the season series 2-0 against Miami. If Russ returns as we all assume he will – they will want to get him a win as well – just added motivation for a team that doesn’t really need it. If they play at their best, composed and can adjust their rotations accordingly I can see the Thunder taking the win in a close one 102-99.