6 Keys for OKC Thunder to Finally Get over the Hump vs. Heat

Nick Lantz@nickLantz10Correspondent IIFebruary 12, 2013

6 Keys for OKC Thunder to Finally Get over the Hump vs. Heat

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder are struggling to beat the Miami Heat, but by improving the certain areas that OKC has had trouble with against LeBron James and the Heat, they can cruise to a win.

    Kevin Durant and the Thunder have lost five straight games to Miami. They now have a chance to get some revenge for the 2012 NBA Finals and Christmas Day losses.

    LeBron is on fire so far in 2013, but the Thunder are the highest-scoring team in the league (106.4 points per game). OKC has the firepower to knock out anybody in the league.

    To get past the Heat, Oklahoma City will want to improve on the following areas.

Shoot More Efficiently from Behind the Arc

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    Kevin Durant is arguably the best shooter in the NBA today, and leads this Oklahoma City squad that is an offensive monster. The Thunder are the highest scoring team in the NBA, and can score in bunches.

    However, in the team's losses to Miami, they have struggled shooting from outside.

    Against Miami in last season's NBA Finals, the Thunder shot just 30.5 percent from behind the arc. That was significantly lower than OKC's season average of 35.5 percent from deep last season.

    This was a similar occurrence on Christmas Day in Miami, as the Thunder were not as efficient with the three-point shot then either.

    In that first meeting, a 103-97 Miami victory, the Oklahoma City Thunder did not shoot as effectively as the team is capable of. The Thunder were only able to hit a lowly five three-pointers of the unit's 16 attempts.

    On the season, the Thunder are shooting just over 48 percent from the field and over 39 percent from downtown. Against Miami on Christmas Day, OKC made just over 42 percent from the field, including just over 31 percent from deep.

    If the Thunder can get more efficient three-pointers to go, it will give them a better chance to take down Miami.

More Assists, Make the Extra Pass

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    Another thing that Miami has limited Oklahoma City players from doing is picking up assists. They will need to make some more passes and find the open man, in order to beat the Heat.

    Russell Westbrook is one of the better point guards in the league, and is a solid passer and play-maker. He is No. 5 in the NBA in assists (8.1 per game), and will need to distribute the ball evenly among his teammates.

    Oklahoma City is No. 15 in team assists, averaging 22.1 per game this season. However, when the Thunder play the Heat, they produce far-less assists.

    In the 2012 NBA Finals, OKC only averaged 15.8 assists against a strong Miami defense. That was a big reason why the Thunder came up short of their championship goal.

    Against Miami in December, the team only notched 14 assists, over eight fewer than their season average. Westbrook dished out only three assists in their first loss to Miami this season.

    Westbrook and OKC are going to need to be smart, and make the extra pass if it is there. The team will need to rack up more assists against Miami.

Get off to a Fast Start, Bring the Intensity

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    The Thunder and the Heat are two of the most exciting teams to watch in NBA hoops today. Durant, Westbrook and OKC need to come ready to play, full of energy and passionately right from the start.

    During this season's first matchup between the two teams, Oklahoma City started the game off slowly and sluggishly, while the Heat came out firing.

    The Heat got off to an early lead in that game, forcing Oklahoma City to have to catch up with them early on. Miami got off to a quick 7-0 lead just over a minute into the game, then stretched that to a 15-3 lead with 7:44 left in the first quarter.

    Oklahoma City cannot afford to start off this slowly against Miami. Westbrook should run the Thunder's fast break in the early going, and set up some quick and easy buckets.

    The Thunder need to set the tone early when playing the Heat.

Dominate the Rebounding Battle

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    Oklahoma City has the size advantage when the Thunder match up with Miami. Serge Ibaka and the Thunder big men should not have a problem out-rebounding the Heat every time they play.

    The Heat are at the bottom, No. 30 in rebounding average, collecting just under 39 per game. Oklahoma City on the other hand, is No. 10 in the NBA averaging over 43 boards per contest.

    Serge Ibaka should be the best rebounder on the floor every time he faces the Heat. He is averaging eight rebounds per game, but should look to crash the glass far more against Miami.

    The Thunder need to dominate the paint, pulling down the majority of rebounds.

Force Miami to Take Jumpers

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    Oklahoma City's big men should not only be rebounding much more strongly than Miami, but also controlling the lane when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade come slashing toward the hoop.

    The Thunder defense should be focused on keeping a body on James and Wade as they drive to the basket. They should keep these two out of the lane and force them to shoot jumpers.

    In the team's matchup in December, the Heat only shot 28 percent from three-point land.

    Miami shot ten percent worse than the team's season average of 38 percent, and hoisted up a whopping 28 three-point attempts.

    The Thunder should force the Heat's "big three" to have to beat them with their jump shots. It is difficult to slow down LeBron, Bosh and Wade, however forcing them to take difficult jump shots makes it easier.

    The Heat only made 25 percent of their mid-range shots in the 2012 NBA Finals.

    Forcing Miami to take jumpers, rather than sliding through for an easy dunk or layup, is key to slowing down the Heat.

Get to the Foul Line Often

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    Oklahoma City not only is one of the best shooting teams in the league, but also very good at hitting free throws.

    The Thunder should take advantage of this and get to the line as much as possible. They should be aggressive and attack the rim when given the chance.

    With finishers like Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, the Thunder should drive to the basket often, coming away with either an exciting finish or free-throw attempts.

    OKC has the top free-throw percentage in the NBA by a wide margin, shooting 83 percent from the charity stripe.

    The team shot 38 free throws in their first loss to Miami this season. They should continue to get to the line consistently, especially if they are slumping with their outside shot.

    With Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin, No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in the league in free-throw shooting at just over 90 percent, the Thunder should take as many trips to the line as they can.