OKC Thunder – Miami Heat preview: Expect a defensive battle with seeding on the line

The OKC Thunder take on the Miami Heat with seeding on the line and playoffs just around the corner. Gameday previews the match.

And then there were two. Only two seeding games are left for the OKC Thunder before the playoffs. The first of those two games feature the Miami Heat.

Both teams have won three and lost three games in the bubble. Miami is coming off a blowout victory over the Indiana Pacers. Notably, everyone had their eyes on the matchup between the Heat’s Jimmy Butler and the Pacers’ T.J. Warren, after their scuffle in January.

In the end, Butler won the battle with his side dominating on the defensive end and having seven players score in double-digits.

On the other hand, the Thunder is coming off a loss to the Phoenix Suns who right now can do no wrong. However, OKC was without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel, and Dennis Schroder.

At the moment there is uncertainty over who will be healthy and available for the Heat game. But even if the Thunder are shorthanded again, it is likely better for them to take the safer route and rest guys rather than risk further injury with the playoffs approaching.

OKC has also come so far this season and it would be amazing to see them go even further.

OKC Thunder game plan:

Darius Bazley to start again:

Baze has shown up and shown out in OKC’s last two games. After a career-high 23 points against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, he then backed it up with a huge double-double performance with 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Suns. Bazley also added three assists, one block, and one steal.

We know he’s a special player and if he can continue his incredible play, opponents will have to come up with a plan because he’s looking unstoppable.

The rookie is shooting the ball nicely, knocking down five of eight of his three-pointers against the Wizards and then sinking two threes against the Suns. He doesn’t hesitate and has shown great awareness to make the right decisions when either shooting the basketball or driving for a lay-up.

Bazley is still young with so much more to give and it’s exciting to think about what type of player he will become.

Thunder bench steps up:

As TI’s Matthew Hallett discussed in the Wizard’s gameday preview, the OKC Thunder bench will need to come out firing from the outset.

There’s no question the Thunder has a deep team, but with all the recent injuries they have found it difficult to play the same brand of basketball they were coming into the NBA bubble.

Hamidou Diallo and Abdel Nader in particular have shown so much promise with their energy, athleticism, and confidence to shoot the ball. If they can show that again and support Bazley who looks to have another big game then it would cause havoc for the Heat.

Tamberlyn Richardson of TI also discussed a four reserve lineup along with Chris Paul posing a threat that would help if the Thunder’s bench comes out strong.

Battle on the boards:

The defensive masters of Andre Roberson and Luguentz Dort will be key in going up against the Miami Heat who dominated the Pacers on the boards.

Roberson got six rebounds against the Suns, four of which were defensive and two offensive rebounds. Bazley also pulled down three offensive rebounds.

The Heat played aggressive defense and recorded 59 rebounds compared to 45 from the Pacers. As cliche as it may sound, it will take a team effort but the Thunder are more than capable of disrupting this.

Odds predictions:

Here are the odds for the game.

Game specifics:

Miami Heat Record/Seed: 44-27

It is likely the Heat will finish the regular season in the fourth spot with the Boston Celtics ahead by four wins and four fewer losses. The Heat will want to end regulation on a good note by retaining their spot and beating the Pacers who they will play in their last seeding match.

OKC Thunder Record/Seed: 43-27

The Thunder are still in fifth spot in the West with the Rockets only one win ahead and the Jazz right behind them with one more loss. If the Jazz loses to the Spurs, the Thunder will keep their spot and they’ll need the Rockets to lose their last two games in order to move up to fourth.

That will set up a thrilling first round of the playoffs as it means OKC will take on Russell Westbrook and the Rockets.

The Venue: Walt Disney World Resort. Visa Athletic Center.

Tipoff: 8:00 PM ET | 7:00 PM CT

TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma | NBA League Pass

Radio: WWLS 98.1 FM OKC

History:

The teams have met 63 times in the regular season with the Thunder holding a 39-24 win advantage. The last time they met on January 17, Miami won 115-108.

Enjoy the game Thunder Nation and check back afterward for player grades and takeaways.

Next: Ranking difficulty of seeding schedules for all 22 teams
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