LeBron James elevated his play to an entirely different level in scoring 30-plus points in three straight games to move past the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference final in seven games. But he will need to dig deep to overcome the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals to capture his first-ever championship.
James has led the team to a 12-6 record through the first three rounds of the 2012 NBA playoffs, moving past the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and Celtics to reach this point. He is averaging a team-high 30.8 points during the postseason.
The Heat have been labeled underdogs by oddsmakers six times during the 2011-12 season, posting 1-5 against the spread (ATS) and straight-up record. One of those setbacks was a 103-87 blowout loss to the Thunder as two-point road underdogs on March 25.
Oklahoma City has put together one of the more impressive runs in recent memory, eliminating three quality teams from the Western Conference, including four consecutive wins over the San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals to advance to this stage in six games.
NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant averaged 29.7 points during the four-game win streak, as he joins point guard Russell Westbrook to form one of the more formidable duos in the league. He will definitely benefit from receiving a few extra days rest after playing all 48 minutes last Wednesday night.
The Thunder are 4-0 ATS when playing on three or more days of rest this season, while the "over" is 3-1 in that situation. Miami deserves respect in this spot, covering five of its last six games when playing on two days rest.
I'm going to back the more experienced side in the series opener, as I anticipate the Thunder to start rolling in Game 2 on Thursday night.
Pick: Miami Heat +5
Follow on Twitter: @JeffGrantSports
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!