Clear Advantages Miami Heat Still Hold over Oklahoma City Thunder
The Miami Heat knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games in last season's NBA Finals and continued their dominance over the young Thunder with a season sweep this year, featuring a 103-97 victory on Christmas Day and a 110-100 thumping in OKC on Valentine's Day.
The Thunder have played outstanding basketball for the majority of the season, even looking like the best team in the league at points this year.
However, the Thunder haven't quite been able to crack the Heat to this point, with Miami winning the team's past six meetings. There's no doubt that Oklahoma City is just as talented and athletic as the Heat, but the defending champions still hold some clear advantages over the Thunder.
Miami holds an edge in the intangibles of experience, ability to close and mental toughness.
While the Thunder might be nipping at the Heat's heels, Miami isn't quite ready to concede its crown to OKC yet.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Sure, the Oklahoma City Thunder have beefed up their playoff repertoire over the past two seasons with back-to-back Western Conference finals appearances to go along with their first NBA Finals showing last year.
However, they have nowhere near the amount of playoff experience that the Miami Heat have.
Other than Kendrick Perkins, no one on the Thunder has a championship ring.
In contrast, most of the Heat's players have a title under their belts from last season, while Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Ray Allen previously won championships and have been thoroughly battle-tested in their careers.
In addition, Allen, LeBron James and Rashard Lewis advanced to the finals at one point in their careers before donning a Heat uniform, while the Thunder have no such player besides Perkins.
The point is not to put down Oklahoma City, but to stress the significance of how many more deep playoff runs Miami's players have experienced over the years.
That is something that can't ever be taken away from the Heat. Only time can help the Thunder's cause in the experience department.
Miami has the clear advantage.
Ability to Close Out Games
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
There's no denying that the OKC Thunder have been strong in close games, led by one of the most clutch players in the game in Kevin Durant.
However, like most things revolving around the Miami Heat and Thunder, the Heat are just slightly better.
That was evident in last year's NBA Finals matchup when the Heat made the necessary plays on both sides of the floor to win the game, while the Thunder came up just short.
As good as the Thunder were in clutch time, the Heat made a play here or a play there that gave them that slight edge to win the contest.
As for this season, Miami has been on point when it comes to close games.
According to Team Rankings, the Heat are No. 8 in the league when it comes to win percentage in close games at .636, while OKC is No. 19 at .444.
The Heat usually prevail in close games by putting on a flurry of offense and stifling defense in waning moments, as evidenced in games against Portland, the Lakers and the Thunder this season. It also helps that they have one of the most clutch three-point shooters of all time.
Close games are what the playoffs are about, and Miami executes where OKC doesn't.
Marc Serota/Getty Images
The OKC Thunder are certainly a resilient team and are extremely poised for such a young squad.
However, it's obvious that their confidence is a little rattled against the Miami Heat.
Sometimes, no matter how great a team is, it has trouble getting over the hump against certain opponents.
After the Thunder mounted a huge comeback to beat the Heat in Game 1 of the Finals, Miami won four consecutive games to win the championship.
Not only did the Heat win four straight, but they also became the first team to beat the Thunder on their home floor in the 2012 postseason.
Even worse, they left the Thunder demoralized by beating them when the games were close (Games 2-4) and then absolutely demolishing them in the closeout victory (Game 5).
Then, when OKC had the opportunity to get some revenge in the team's first matchup since the finals on Christmas Day, it failed, as Miami was able to pull away late once again.
The Thunder have played more consistent and better basketball than the Heat so far this season, but Miami still possesses a mental advantage over Oklahoma City.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
When the Miami Heat are engaged on defense, there is no doubt that they are a top-three defensive team.
The Heat's ability to cover so much ground and swarm the ball makes them an extremely dangerous team, especially when it leads to points in transition.
The athleticism of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, combined with the defensive smarts of Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem, make the Heat an extremely stingy defensive team when they want to be.
While the Thunder are good on defense, they aren't elite on that side of the ball.
OKC is 16th in scoring defense and often relies on outscoring teams to win games.
The Thunder also suffer from poor interior defense, allowing 40.6 points per game inside the paint, per Team Rankings.
While Miami doesn't have great height and has been known to give up points in the paint, it makes up for it with excellent rotations and the ability to cut off the ball from entering the paint.
Miami has a clear advantage in its pick-and-roll defense.
More notable is how turnover-prone Oklahoma City is this season. The Thunder turn the ball over 15.6 times per contest, which ranks them second-worst in the NBA behind the Houston Rockets.
That is a clear advantage for a team that feasts on turnovers like the Heat.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
There's not much debate that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the clear-cut No. 1 and No. 2 best players in the NBA today, respectively.
However, as much as people think the gap is closing, it really isn't. James is by far the best player on this planet, and that's been cemented with his recent play.
LeBron showed that again Thursday in his head-to-head matchup with KD. LeBron scored 39 points on 14-of-24 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing seven assists. Durant had a game-high 40 points, but LeBron was the more complete player in a blowout victory against one of the league's best home teams.
James ended his record-setting performance of six consecutive games of 30 points or more while shooting at least 60 percent but still shot an outstanding 58 percent from the field tonight.
LeBron made 66 of his past 92 shots and was an absurd 60-of-80 (75 percent) in his last 188 minutes of court time before Miami's game against the Thunder Thursday.
KD is great, but not that great.
The fact is that James is playing in a whole different stratosphere right now, and if he continues to play anywhere close to his current level, the Heat don't just have an advantage over OKC—they have an advantage over every single team in the league.
As long as LeBron rocks a Heat uniform, Miami will have a slight edge over OKC.
Follow me on Twitter @TheNBAllen