First of all I am very upset by the Bulls not being in this championship. When I did my picks for the playoffs I had everything correct except for the Bulls (My picks were made pre-Derrick Rose injury). I am not bragging, I guess I am just frustrated by the whole situation. Damn!
Say what you will about the Miami Heat, but they have responded. Chris Bosh went out in that Indiana Pacers series and they responded. In games 4,5,6 they completely dominated the Pacers and even though everyone wanted it to happen, they did not lose. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade both had monster moments at different moments throughout. When the Celtics series started 2-0 I truly thought that this was going to be a sweep. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett played awesome and the Celtics gave the Heat a scare. The ESPN coverage was trying to convince everyone that the Heat were done and there was in-fighting in the locker room. It was 3-2 Celtics going to back to Boston. Then, LeBron “The Chosen One” James happened. He scored 30 points in the first half of game 6 and the Celtics could never recover. I honestly think that he could do that almost any game he wants. Cleveland days style. He must realize that he is the best player on that team and just take over.
The Thunder who just looked out of place in the Western Conference finals in the first 2 games also fought back. They looked out-classed by a San Antonio Spurs team that was unbelievable in games 1 and 2. The Spurs were hitting shots at home at an alarming rate. They shot 55% in Game 2! It just seemed like the Thunder had once again, like last year, run into a buzz saw. Then the Spurs went cold, Thabo Sefolosha locked down Tony Parker, and the Thunder just exploded. In game 3, the Thunder looked like the tiger to the Spurs elephant. OKC looked young, energetic, and hungry(Not Boris Diaw looking hungry). They just ended up making all of the clutch shots they needed to make. The Spurs played good defense on James Harden and Kevin Durant on both of those clutch shots, they just made them. I for one and glad they one. I don’t know if I could have taken the flop-fest that Ginobili vs. Wade would have been.
Now we have a “dream match-up” for the fans and one, David Stern. I bet he was going crazy when LeBron dropped the hammer on Boston in game 6. This has the potential to be an incredibly enjoyable series. I think both of these team pose mach-up problems for each other. I think they are both really good. I think they are both fun to watch.
(Raising the Roof with joy)
I will break this down into 5 key components that will decide the series. Enjoy.
#5 – Officiating
I know, I know, the conspiracy theorist. Not really. While watching the Spurs/Thunder game 6(terrible calls against the Spurs) and Heat/Celtics game 2(terrible calls against the Celtics) I realized how important NBA refs can be. They can completely and utterly shape the game and often, they outcome. The Thunder thrive on running and gunning from the outside. They are essentially a jump shot reliant team. The Heat are just the opposite. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are at their best when attacking the rim. They will test the Thunder big men when they put them in a pick-and-roll situation or by just getting past their defender one-on-one. This in turn will put pressure on the officials. If they call every body bump, the Thunder will lose. When these calls are made also makes a huge difference. If they are called in the 4th quarter down the stretch might make the difference in the series. I think this is a huge advantage to the Heat. Not because of some David Stern/officials conspiracy but because their style of play is more aggressive than the Thunder’s. The officials will be under a lot of pressure in the series.
#4- Chris Bosh vs. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins
Chris Bosh looked pretty good in game 7 the other night against the Celtics. I know he got 9 of his 19 points off of inexplicable 3’s. I also know he is always the guy who people consider the 3rd wheel in the “Big Three”, but he is vital to their success in the finals. If Bosh is hitting his 15 footer and is able to get those two big guys out of the paint, the Heat will win. If Ibaka and Perkins can stay out of foul trouble and inside the paint on defense, the Thunder will win. I have a feeling you will see a lot of ball-screening involving LeBron and Bosh to try and open up that area around the basket.
#3 – The Others
As the TNT crew always says, “The others are the key”. James Harden played awful in the first 2 games against the Spurs. It is no surprise that the Thunder struggled. He is not a great defender so when he had to try and hold Manu, he sucked. It wasted too much of his energy. Against the Heat he will need to be the 6th Man of the Year if the Thunder want to win. The Thunder “others” must outplay the Heat “others”, and they should. Harden, Collison, Sefolosha, Ibaka, and Fisher vs. Chalmers, Haslem, Battier, and Cole. Huge advantage OKC. This might win the championship for the Thunder. I know stars decide the game, but the supporting cast allow those stars to get a rest and perform in the clutch down the stretch.
#2 – Russell Westbrook vs. Russell Westbrook
When Russell Westbrook realizes that he is impossible to stay in front of for 48 minutes, the Thunder are unbeatable. He is an incredible scorer and finisher. But, he gets lost. He forgets that he plays with Kevin Durant who has a mismatch against his defender every single trip down the court. When Westbrook gets going he can be the best player on the court. In my opinion he is the best scoring point guard in the league and probably the best since Allen Iverson. His ability to fly around people and finish at the basket is amazing. I know people say things like Derrick Fisher and Shane Battier are the “X factors”, but honestly to win a championship, Westbrook is. No one on this Heat team can guard him. I scoff at the suggestion of Norris Cole. If Westbrook can stay focused on his role as a scorer but also not forget that he also has a lot of talent around him, the Thunder will win.
#1 – LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
ESPN loves billing the two superstars as the real match-up. It is almost never “Heat vs. Thunder”. It is “James vs. Durant”. Well, in this case they are correct. These guys will make the difference in who will hold up the trophy in the end. They are superstars. One the MVP and one the scoring champ. LeBron showed that when it is needed he can still take over during that Celtics series. I don’t think the Thunder has anyone that can guard him if he stays aggressive the whole game. I think Sefolosha, Harden, Ibaka, and possibly Durant will guard him at various times. LeBron is a mismatch, but one of his major problems is that he doesn’t always realize it. Durant will probably be guarded by Battier, Miller, and James. I think that James is the best defender on Durant because of his size but I don’t know if Spoelstra will want to LeBron to expend that much energy on the defense. In this series I think Durant has the potential to put up huge numbers, unless LeBron guards him. I’m interested to see the coaches duel when it comes to containing these two uncontainable forces. It should be an awesome spectacle to watch these two go at it. I am excited to see superstars make superstar plays.
First of all, I think the series will go 7 games. I think this is a very hard series to pick. There are so many uncertainties with the Miami Heat. This is it for LeBron. If he doesn’t win this year I think he will be hammered even more than he already is now for not being able to win it all. It is hard to predict which LeBron will show up. Passive LeBron who hides in the corner of the court or defers to Mario @#$%ing Chalmers or the guy that can score at will and shut down your best player? How will Dwayne Wade play after getting roughed up by the Celtics? Or how will a still hurt Chris Bosh perform on such a big stage? I still have a lot more questions about the Miami team even after those 3 players. I just don’t know which team will show up. On the other side, the Thunder have been the same team for the entire playoffs. They are super talented and extremely hard to guard in crunch time. When Westbrook, Durant, and Harden are on the court they are special. The Thunder know their roles. They have a set rotation. They have two very good defensive big guys to protect the basket which is perfect to combat what the Heat are good at. I think these factors will be enough for them. The Thunder are also excellent at home. That stadium has become the best home court in the NBA. This is going to be a great match-up. Two superstars in their prime going at it. Who will shrink and who will stand up tall?
MY PICK: Oklahoma City Thunder