Just wanted to give my quick analysis of the NBA Finals matchup between South Beach (now complete with talents!) and the Oklahoma City Supersonics.
This is the finals I had predicted from the beginning (despite my rampant Knicks homerism and delusional belief they could advance) and the finals I would believe most people were pulling for (for sheer watchability). We’ve got two teams that are young, hungry for a title and athletic that both play their best in transition in turning defense into offense.
Ultimately, I believe the Finals will come down to Miami’s “8 Championships” Big 3 vs OKC’s “Struck Gold on the Lottery Three Years in a row Big 3″.
Lebron James: You may have gathered from my thus far sarcastic post, that I’m not a huge fan of Lee-Bron Jones (as my dad has called him on occasion hahaha). It’s true that I do want to see him lose for all the Decision nonsense and the big Miami arena party they had when the Big 3 signed, but I also do recognize that he is easily the best basketball player on the planet right now. The way he stepped up and dominated Game 6 of the ECF against the Celtics was nothing short of breathtaking. It’s the type of ball we’ve been looking for from James since he came into the league. James will likely get 1 or 2 games in the series where he’ll simply take over and win. However, the Thunder are most certainly a different team than any other team the Heat have faced in these playoffs. While most people are expecting a straight Durant v James scenario, anyone that’s watched the Thunder saw the job Thabo Sefalosha did on Kobe Bryant in the Thunder’s series with the Lakers. Also, with the Heat likely spending some time putting James at the 4, you’ll probably see some of Serge Ibaka playing James. With the combination of plus defenders, and Ibaka patrolling the lane on defense, Lebron will have a tougher time taking over this series than any series previously. Despite this, he is still the best player on the floor at all times, and his ability to play big in the clutch has the biggest impact on this series.
Dwyane Wade: Wade looked thoroughly done for a good part of the Celtics series. Most people point to his stats being elite, but most of those stats came from a handful of games earlier in the playoffs. He’s been slow on defense and transition, passing poorly and not finishing at the basket the way we’re used to seeing. He’s definitely taken second fiddle to Lebron’s first chair, but a return to his usual status as one of the top 10 players in the NBA will go a long way to securing Wade’s second title.
Chris Bosh: Bosh has spent most of the Big 3′s time together as the punch line. Most people mocked that he should be included on the same level as a Lebron or a D-Wade. While I’ll agree that he’s not the elite player that James and Wade are, his recent injury really showed how important to this team he is. His length and athleticism allow him to play any type of big man thrown at him, whether it’s an Ibaka who’ll step back for a jumper or a big-bodied Kendrick Perkins. On offense, his excellent mid range game provides needed scoring and an open lane for James and Wade. He gives the Heat a whole different dynamic on offense. If he starts playing long minutes and returning to all-star form, look out.
Kevin Durant: While James may be the best player due to this versatility offensively and defensively, Durant is probably the best pure scorer. The man can put the ball in the basket from anywhere using an insane variety of moves. In the playoffs, Durant has stepped up his game. He has been leading the team in rebounding and has been distributing the ball better as well. He, like Lebron, has the ability to take over a game and put the Thunder on his back. His length and range may be too much for defenders like Lebron or Shane Battier to handle.
Russell Westbrook: Goodness, I can’t ever remember a player I’ve loved and simultaneously hated to watch. For every crisp alley-oop pass or sweet dribble drive to the hoop, there’s the 20 foot step back pull up shot with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. With him, you have to take the bad with the good, as the good ultimately outlasts the bad shots and worse decisions. He’ll definitely get his shots, and he’s averaging approximately 875 shots taken a game, but he’s also passing the ball well too. The question mark here is, can he be aggressive without losing his mind completely? Also, is he willing to get Durant involved when the game is on the line? There were moments in the Thunder/Spurs series where the Thunder desperately needed scoring and Westbrook was just running down the court and hawking jump shots. Hopefully, he realizes that having a dynamic scorer like Durant and an assassin like (see below) means having discipline usually leads to buckets.
James Harden: Easily the best facial hair in the playoffs, Harden has gone from being a question mark to a proven winner. When he was drafted, most people felt he was being drafted too high and his ceiling was as a complementary player. While it’s true that he’s the perfect complementary player to Durant and Westbrook, he also has many other positive attributes that have made him one of the NBA’s better players. His clutch time ability to make shots, his range from 3, his athleticism on defense and his ability to handle the ball all make him a very important player. I believe Miami will certainly key in on Durant and Westbrook to limit their scoring. If Harden can knock down clutch shots like he’s been doing, the Thunder’s ability to win the title goes up exponentially.
X-factors - Shane Battier/Mario Chalmers and Thabo Sefalosha/Serge Ibaka: With the supporting casts, I feel that these four are the ones that can really help swing the series one way or another. With Battier and Sefalosha, it depends on their abilities to hit outside jumpers and defend the other teams’ best scorer (Durant or James, respectively). Chalmers adds some extra scoring and stretches the floor with his 3-point shooting when James and Wade need some room to work and relieves some of their scoring burden. Ibaka, as mentioned earlier can knock down the outside long 2-point jump shots, which clears the lane for Durant and Westbrook and keeps the defenses honest, like Bosh does for the Heat. Ibaka is also the best shot blocker playing and his defense of the paint could force the Heat to becoming a predominantly jump shooting team.
All this being said, despite Lebron James being the best player on the floor whenever he’s on it, the Thunder have too complete a team, too many weapons and match up too well to the Heat’s strengths. Miami, Cleveland and Seattle are going to be pissed.
Prediction: Thunder in six games