I’m not one to toot my own horn, but if you go back and look at my predictions from when the NBA Playoffs were just starting you’ll see the only series I got wrong was the Chicago/Philadelphia match-up in the first round. And who can blame me? I’m a homer. If I were from Montana or something, who knows what my pick would’ve been. Either way, thirteen out of fourteen isn’t too bad. The only question is whether my prediction of OKC beating Miami in the NBA Finals will come true. Let’s have a look and see, shall we?
Miami has been here before. LeBron has been to the Finals three times now, and is as determined and as hungry and as focused and as locked in as I’ve ever seen him, and to bet against him seems like it would be a risky move at this point. He did everything in his power with his team down 3-2 in the Conference Finals to make sure that they advanced to the Championship round. It was something magical to watch: In game six, he had thirty points by halftime and it was like he wasn’t even really trying all that hard. That kind of drive is something that comes along only a few times every generation, with Michael and Kobe being the most recent examples. But a collective group of players as talented as OKC doesn’t come around that often either. This Finals series will answer the question of what makes a better team: one that is built around two or three really really good players that will do whatever it takes to win (even if it means becoming totally selfish and taking every shot), or one that is build around a bunch of good players that buy into the concept of a team and who make sacrifices for the betterment of that team (even if it means being selfless and passing up shots)?
A couple arguments for both teams. LeBron is a beast. There is no denying his greatness, and the way he willed his team to victory in the Boston series was one of the best performances in the history of the NBA. If he is able to defend Durant with success, it will force the Thunder to put the game in the hands of Westbrook and Harden, two very capable players, but neither of whom have the killer clutch instincts that Durant possesses. I would expect the Heat to use Battier on Durant for the first three quarters of the game, usually the part of the game when he defers the most, trying to get his teammates involved. Then when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter, switch up and put LeBron on him. LeBron, conversely, usually does the brunt of his damage in the first half and then allows Wade to come on late in the game. So if this happens, and the rest of the Heat are able to play at a high level defensively, and Wade and Bosh are able to contribute significantly on the offensive end, then there’s no reason Miami shouldn’t be able to come away victorious.
However, the Heat struggled with an old, slow Boston team that was hobbled going into the series, barely making it out in seven games. Now they face a young, fast Oklahoma City team that is 100% healthy and rested. OKC has a loaded roster that will be hard to keep together in a few years (especially when Westbrook and Harden’s rookie contracts expire and they start looking to get paid like Durant just did) so they know their best chance at winning a ring is with this group of players. Look at the match-ups alone. Westbrook vs. Chalmers? Advantage OKC. Sefalosha vs. Wade? Advantage Miami. Durant vs. James? Draw. Ibaka vs. Bosh? Advantage Miami (but not really, Ibaka is pretty much an offensive equal to Bosh’s role on Miami, and Ibaka is WAY better on defense, so really this is Advantage OKC, especially with Bosh not being 100%). Perkins vs. Anthony (or Haslem, or whoever they think their Center is)? Advantage OKC. The Thunder bench (Harden, Collins, Fisher) vs. Miami’s bench (Miller, Cole, Battier)? Advantage OKC. So, by that count OKC has the slight edge over Miami. But something tells me it won’t even be that close. I just remember the halftime interview with Rondo when a reporter asked him what holes in Miami’s defense were the Celtics able to exploit and he answered: “Them crying to the refs during transition.” It was funny because it’s true. I can totally envision Dwyane Wade stomping his fists on the hardwood floor, complaining about not getting a foul call, instead of getting up and getting back on D while Westbrook and Durant sprint up court on a fast break like gazelles.
Still, this is what the NBA needed. These are the two teams everyone wants to see in the Finals (besides the people who hate LeBron & Wade for joining forces and who hope they forever come up short, and the people who hate OKC for even having a team in the first place after their owner snubbed Seattle of all this greatness), and I expect nothing but high flying acrobatic dunks and alley oops and buzzer beating/game winning three pointers from about thirty feet out. I mean after all, this is where Amazing Happens, isn’t it?