Experts and fans alike are overwhelmingly anticipating an entertaining series, but one that will ultimately end with more heartbreak for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat organization, possibly setting in motion the end of the two-year, Big Three experiment.
James himself famously predicted multiple titles when he and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach, joining Wade to form the league's most dominant trio. But now they may not last long enough to even win one championship together.
Aside from the Thunder having home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series, there's plenty of other evidence to suggest that Miami will once again come up short, making James 0-3 in NBA Finals appearances.
However, the last two games of Eastern Conference finals gave me reason to believe that King James and co. just might shock the world and finally deliver on their ridiculously high expectations.
Much has been made of the fact that the Thunder defeated three former NBA champions—including the last two in the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers—en route to their first NBA Finals appearance since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City prior to the 2009-2010 season.
While that is certainly an impressive feat, the Miami Heat will be the toughest opponent that the Thunder have faced this postseason.
Dallas went all-in on the 2010-2011 season, knowing that they would likely lose some important players via free agency last summer. That prediction proved true as key contributors J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler left for greener pastures (at least financially) in Minnesota and New York, respectively.
After the Lamar Odom experiment failed, the Mavericks were a shell of their former selves when they fell to the Thunder in the first round.
And after the fallout from the voided Chris Paul trade, many discounted the Los Angeles Lakers as legitimate title contenders in the first year of the Mike Brown era, especially after they were swept out of the 2011 NBA playoffs by Dallas.
The Thunder dismissed Team Kobe in five games, but the series could have easily gone the other way. Were it not for some late-game gaffes by the Lakers, L.A. could have very easily taken a 3-1 lead in that second-round series, potentially leading to a very different finals discussion.
The Thunder's crowning achievement during this surprising postseason run was the six-game defeat of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, the NBA's best team and winners of 20 games in a row—including a perfect 10-0 postseason record and a 2-0 series lead over Oklahoma City—prior to losing the last four games of the series.
After being torched by Spurs point guard Tony Parker in the first two games, the Thunder made an adjustment that effectively cut off the head of San Antonio, a blow from which they never really recovered. With Parker neutralized and Tim Duncan finally showing his age, was it really a surprise that Manu Ginobili and a group of mostly unproven subs couldn't defeat Oklahoma City?
Miami may not be as deep as San Antonio or have the championship pedigree of Dallas and Los Angeles. However, the Heat do have the league's best player in MVP LeBron James, and at least three players—including Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers—who can rotate as primary ball-handlers, making it nearly impossible to execute the same strategy used against the Spurs.
It was all but certain that if the Heat did not get Chris Bosh back before the NBA Finals, they would have no shot at beating either Oklahoma City or San Antonio.
And had he not returned for Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, Miami may not have advanced past the Boston Celtics.
But Bosh did return, and he showed enough during the previous series—including a terrific 31-minute appearance in Game 7—to make the Heat a legitimate threat to win the title. He may not be 100 percent yet and likely won't get there by the end of the finals, but Bosh has proved to be a reliable contributor in the postseason, even during last season's failed title run.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will still need to do the heavy lifting, but Bosh will have to provide solid support if the Heat hope to return to South Beach with the Larry O'Brien Trophy in hand.
Save for a couple of big games toward the end of the Indiana series and the occasional flashes of brilliance during the second halves of games against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, Dwyane Wade has looked like a shell of his former self.
Frankly, it's been painful to watch. Given his reckless, go-hard-or-go-home playing style, it's little wonder that Wade's body has started to break down on him at the tender age of 30.
But don't let his advanced aging fool you, because I believe he is playing a crafty game of possum.
If you pay close attention to Wade's words during recent post-game press conferences, you'll discover that he's figured something out. Many of us have been waiting for Wade or LeBron James to figure out which one was going to be the true alpha dog for the Heat, but over the past 10 games, the answer has become clear (James), and Wade seems OK with that.
I'm not sure if they had a private conversation at some point during this postseason run, and if they did, who initiated it. All that matters is that Wade seems to have figured out that he can pace himself a bit early in games, saving his best performances for closing time when Miami truly needs him.
I don't imagine that Wade can disappear for entire first halves like he did against Boston if the Heat are to emerge victorious. But I'm certain that the old dog—and former NBA Finals MVP—has a few tricks left up his sleeve, and the young pups from Oklahoma City won't quite know what hit 'em.
Less than 48 hours ago, I had both feet firmly planted in the Oklahoma City camp, thoroughly convinced that no matter how well LeBron James played, there was no way the Heat were going to beat the Thunder in a seven-game series.
Then I read this column by ESPN.com NBA writer Brian Windhorst, and my whole perspective began to change.
We've all been waiting for LeBron to develop the same killer instinct that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both wear like a badge of honor, but at some point, many basketball fans decided that James just didn't have it in him.
I still don't think he does, but I no longer think it matters.
What he seems to have now is a sense of calm (or peace) that allows him to block out the negativity, shake off the unbearable weight of other people's expectations and simply focus on being what, at his essence, he has been for quite some time, which is…
Much of the conversation surrounding the 2012 NBA Finals has centered around this debate over which team has the best "Big Three."
The answer to that question isn't really all that important if you look at it through the prism of trade analysis.
There's an old adage in sports that says when you're evaluating which team got the better end of a trade, especially when multiple players are involved, the team that received the best player is generally considered the winner.
Kevin Durant may be my second-favorite player in the NBA right now (slowly creeping up on the Black Mamba for that No. 1 spot). But by any sort of objective measure, LeBron James is clearly the better player, and that will ultimately make the difference in who wins this series.
Yes, Dwyane Wade will need to play like more than a shell of his former self. Yes, Chris Bosh needs to give the Heat significant and productive minutes. Yes, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Mike Miller will need to hit their fair share of outside shots.
But none of that will matter if James doesn't significantly outplay Durant over the course of this series.
Given each player's importance to his team's offense and the fact that neither is any good to their squads if they are in foul trouble, it's unlikely that James and Durant will spend the majority of the time defending each other throughout the series.
Quite frankly, Durant's rail-thin frame will make it difficult for him to slow James if he tries. But LeBron has quietly become the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and if he can effectively take Durant out of games during key stretches, the Heat have a terrific shot at emerging victorious.
And that is what this series boils down to. When the best player in the world focuses on nothing more than being just that and the second-best player is powerless to stop him, the outcome of the battle is inevitable.
The Thunder's time will come, possibly as soon as 2013. But this season, King James will finally get his crown. Basketball fans should sit back, enjoy the show and prepare for the coronation.