NBA Finals preview: Can OKC stand the Heat?
Yesterday, the Stanley Cup playoffs finished up. Today is about new beginnings. Today is the start of the NBA finals. One of the teams is a familiar face. The Miami Heat reached the finals last year, only to fall to Dallas. Oklahoma City has never seen this stage. One team seeks redemption, to finally live up to the hype. The other seeks recognition, to let the basketball world know they have arrived.
Miami has a lot to live up to. First there was the infamous “decision” in which LeBron James spurned his hometown for the sunny shores of South Beach. Then there was the “prediction,” the self-created notion that the “Big-three” in Miami would win not one championship, but six. The disappointment of last year still in their heads, they have a lot to prove. Their window is shrinking. Their time is now.
Oklahoma City is an entirely different story. They were a team destined for mediocrity. That is, until Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook arrived on the scene. Durant has won two consecutive scoring titles, but is looking for more. For the young star to truly take his place amongst the greats, he needs to perform in the post season, he needs a ring.
LeBron struggles for the same thing. Twice he has made it to the finals. Twice he has come up empty-handed. Sure there are the detractors. “LeBron James is like a broken change machine, put in a dollar and you’ll only get back three quarters.” James has sought to fix that notion. He has stepped up his play, especially late in games. He has also committed to defense and began to pass on occasion. For James to truly be king. For him to truly reach the level of Bryant, Jordan and the legends he is often compared to; he must win when it matters most.
All things considered, basketball usually is not one by one individual. With this in mind, we will assume Durant and James will each get theirs. What will ultimately win the series is the supporting cast around these superstars.
In Miami, it starts with the other two members of the “Big Three.” Dwayne Wade has reached the pinnacle of basketball success. Winning not only a title, but an MVP. These days he struggles to stay healthy, to stay in control, to stay out of LeBron’s shadow. The talent is there, but the results are less certain. Chris Bosh will come off the bench, and is far from 100 percent. They will need him to be physical on Durant, but he struggle to be physical when he is full-speed.
OKC has far more pieces capable of contributing at a high level. Westbrook is one of the most aggressive point guards in the league. He can score and pass with precision. The trouble with him, is whether he can walk the line between effectively aggressive and too aggressive. Ibaka and Perkins are elite defenders with size, capable of shutting down the games best.
The true x-factor is the second unit. James Harden is the reigning sixth man of the year. He is more than capable of playing at either end, and is better than several starters around the league at his position. There is also a man by the name of Derek Fisher. He may not see many minutes, but to truly judge his value one must consider what he brings off the court. He is an unquestioned leader as shown through the lockout, and in his time with the Lakers. He has been on this stage many many times. If he can keep the Thunder’s head in the right place, then the title is theirs for the taking.
It is easy to dub this finals James Vs. Durant. This would be a travesty, as there is so much more happening in this series. It is these other pieces that will make all the difference. I would look for the Thunder to roar, cooling off the Heat.
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