NBA Finals 2012: Preview and Predictions of Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat

Elijah Abramson@@BasesandBasketsCorrespondent IIIJune 10, 2012

NBA Finals 2012: Preview and Predictions of Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat

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    Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have made it to the NBA Finals by beating the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs—teams that have won 10 of the past 13 NBA championships.

    LeBron James and the Miami Heat proved that they weren’t going to lie down and let the Boston Celtics take a Game 7 on their home court. In an outstanding team performance where role players stepped up and Chris Bosh was 3-for-4 on three-pointers, Miami is headed to the NBA Finals to face the young, talented Oklahoma City squad.

    Here’s a breakdown of what will undoubtedly be a thrilling NBA Finals.

Stars

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    Both teams have “Big Threes,” but the NBA Finals will be a battle between the two best small forwards in the NBA.

    Kevin Durant, a three-time scoring champion, is going to battle three-time MVP LeBron James. Durant is one of the best shooters in the game and also has a tremendous ability to finish at the rim.

    LeBron James is, well…LeBron James. By now, the NBA and their fans know what the man who put up 45 points on 19-for-26 from the field is capable of when he is at his best.

    Although statistics may not tell the whole story, they certainly give us a good picture. In the playoffs, these two superstars have put up incredible numbers.

    Look at a side-by-side comparison:

    Per Game Stats

    Kevin Durant

    LeBron James

    Points

    27.8

    30.8

    Rebounds

    7.9

    9.6

    Assists

    4.2

    5.1

    Steals

    1.5

    1.9

    Blocks

    1.3

    0.8

    Free throw %

    0.870

    0.718

    eFG %

    0.556

    0.532

    Statistics as of 6/10/12

    Durant is a complete offensive threat, but he will have LeBron James & Co. defending him—something that amounts to one of the best defenses in the league.

    The OKC star has shown that he can succeed against the league’s best defenders (such as Metta World Peace of the L.A. Lakers in the conference semifinals), but LeBron has a combination of size and strength that nobody else in the NBA provides.

    Similarly, Chris Bosh is an athletic big man that will defend Durant from some brief stretches. With James, Bosh and likely Shane Battier splitting minutes guarding the scoring champion, Miami should be able to contain Durant as much as possible.

    On the other side, OKC will have Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, and possibly Serge Ibaka guard LeBron James. None of them pose significantly challenging matchups for the Miami star, but with Ibaka and Perkins defending the rim, OKC will try to contain James from scoring in the paint.

    Who gets the edge? As great as Durant is, he isn’t in the prime of his career, like LeBron. To the dismay of LeBron haters, James has proven he can perform in clutch games this postseason. He is under constant scrutiny and has come up big.

    Reading The Hunger Games does not legitimately exemplify LeBron’s drive to win a title. Regardless, he has that drive now. He has not forgotten how the NBA Finals ended last year.

    He won’t let it happen again.

    Edge: Miami Heat

Battle of the Big Threes

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    Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are the other four players that round out Oklahoma City and Miami’s “Big Threes.”

    19 points, eight rebounds, and 3-for-4 on three-pointers shows that Chris Bosh has returned from his injury ready to go. Dwyane Wade, on the other hand, has had a problem in the first half during games in the playoffs.

    Wade may be the Achilles' heel of the Heat. If he starts off slowly against the Thunder, Miami will be in trouble.

    For OKC, Westbrook and Harden have been performing impressively. They have combined to average just under 40 points per game during the playoffs, helping take the pressure off Kevin Durant.

    Even though Westbrook and Harden have played well this postseason, Chris Bosh adds a dimension to Miami’s scoring capabilities that the Thunder’s Big Three does not have.

    Serge Ibaka has the ability to hit mid-range shots, but Bosh excels in that area.

    Also, Bosh made a tremendous impact in the last couple games of the Eastern Conference finals. In Bosh’s absence, Garnett was able to sag off Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem. When he came back, they couldn't.

    This will cause problems for the Thunder in the finals. They must either double James and Wade on drives and risk the kick out to Bosh or defend James and Wade one-on-one and hope Miami misses shots in the paint.

    For that reason, the “others” in the Big Threes favor the team from South Beach.

    Edge: Miami Heat

Defense and Coaching

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    Miami has only allowed 100 points in two of 18 games this postseason. OKC has allowed the scoreboard to hit three digits four times in 15 games.

    While Miami’s offense has been inconsistent at times, they are solid defensively. The Wade rejection of Brandon Bass and the James steal in Game 7 are two examples of superb defensive plays in Miami.

    That couples with the versatility of Battier, James, Bosh and Wade to overcome the lack of a true center in Miami.

    On the other hand, the interior for OKC is incredible. Perkins and Ibaka are two of the best big men in the league.

    There is a catch, though. Ibaka and Perkins can be painful to watch offensively. Perkins has missed layups and Ibaka’s 11-for-11 shooting performance in Game 4 vs. San Antonio was an exception, not the norm.

    OKC has no choice but to go small against a potent Miami offense, thus negating their edge in interior defense.

    In terms of coaching, it is an opportunity for Erik Spoelstra and Scott Brooks to make a name for themselves. Neither is well established and although Spo is a protégé of legend Pat Riley, Scott Brooks has beaten Gregg Popovich in the playoffs—a feat in and of itself.

    Overall, Miami will be able to put a better defense on the floor. That gives Miami the advantage because their coaching is about equal.

    Edge: Miami Heat

Role Players

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    When you have a Big Three like Miami and OKC have, who needs role players?

    Just kidding.

    Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem made big shots for Miami in Game 7 against the Celtics. Derek Fisher has had glimpses of his old self come out in the playoffs. Thabo Sefolosha and Daequan Cook have combined for a couple decent performances.

    The reality is, though, these teams rely on five- and six-man rotations.

    And they have gotten this far for a reason; it isn’t players seven through 12. They may provide a temporary stress relief from the stars, but not for long.

    Edge: None

Intangibles

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    This is where the NBA Finals will be won or lost. Both teams are offensive powerhouses, so games will come down to who can stay calm when the other team makes their run.

    And, of course, who can hit the big shots.

    Durant and LeBron will take over a couple games, simply because they are so talented. If both happen to go off in the same game, what a duel NBA fans will be in for.

    Both teams are hungry after making their respective deep playoff runs just last year. They may not have years of experience (save for Dwyane Wade and Derek Fisher), but they haven’t forgotten the bitter taste that ended their seasons last year.

    This series comes down to the 2012 NBA MVP. If he continues to perform like he has this year, Miami will be looking good.

    If he plays like he did in the finals last year, the series may be over in five games.

    LeBron won’t let that happen. He has begun to embrace a “me-first” attitude and knows his legacy hinges on winning a ring. James’ trips to the biggest stage in Cleveland and Miami have given him ample experience.

    He realizes the future of the Miami Heat as we know them may depend on this title.

    Now is his time.

    Series: Heat over Thunder, 4-3