The NBA finals are upon us, and regardless of how you feel about whether the Thunder and Heat are the two best teams in the league, (I think they are) nobody can argue that the two best players in the league are in the finals. Lebron James and Kevin Durant are both at a level above anyone else right now, especially Lebron, and the fact that these two may be guarding each other for long stretches during this series and especially in crunch time, should be enough to get even the most casual basketball fans excited. Both of these teams look pretty even at first glance, so I figured a position by position breakdown might help us sort through the mess. My prediction at the bottom.
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs Mario Chalmers
Just from a purely athletic standpoint this looks to be the biggest mismatch of the finals. Russell Westbrook has been averaging 21/5/5 this postseason, while Chalmers is only averaging 11/4/4. While I fully expect Westbrook to outplay Chalmers, if Chalmers can play the kind of perimeter defense on Westbrook that he is capable of and hit the occasional outside shot, it would give Miami a huge boost. Nevertheless, advantage Thunder.
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs Dwyane Wade
This is another matchup that doesn’t look that fair at first glance, with Thabo averaging only 5/3/1 and Wade averaging 23/4/4, but Thabo is not starting in the Finals because of his offensive prowess. He is a superb perimeter defender who will get the unenviable task of guarding a combination of Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. Any scoring for Thabo will be considered gravy for the Thunder, but he is not nearly on the level that Wade is on. Advantage Heat.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs Lebron James
This is the marquee matchup, and by itself is a pretty good reason to tune in. Durant is averaging 28/8/4 this postseason, while also shooting a blistering 50% from the field. Lebron is averaging a slightly better 31/10/5, but has been so dominant this last series that most Celtics fans would swear he averaged 45/15/10. While Durant is the reigning scoring champ, he just doesn’t do all the things the three time MVP does. Advantage Heat.
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka vs Chris Bosh
Ibaka is the Thunder’s shot blocking beast, who has been averaging 3+ blocks per game while putting up 11/6/1 on 56% shooting. The only worry with Ibaka is that he has a propensity to get into foul trouble, and with Lebron and Wade barreling through the lane for four quarters, I fully expect him to struggle with fouls all series long. Chris Bosh, averaging 14/7/1, has been out for about half of this postseason with a mysterious abdominal injury, but he came back just in time to help bring the Heat back from elimination against the Celtics, and seems to have really found his outside shot in the last two games. If Bosh’s jumper is falling he is a huge weapon for the Heat, and can take a lot of the pressure off of Lebron and Wade. Advantage Heat.
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs Udonis Haslem?
I am not sure who the Heat are trotting out at center, so I just picked the one I think they should start. Udonis Haslem has been averaging 5/7/1 and has been the Heats most effective big man for most of the playoffs, but that isn’t really saying much. Kendrick Perkins has been a pretty reliable post defender, but is still only averaging 5/6/1 this postseason. Neither of these teams expect to get much from the center position, but after watching Haslem average 9+ rebounds against the Celtics i actually expect more out of him than Perkins. Advantage Heat
Thunder Bench vs Heat Bench
The Thunder have James Harden, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher playing prominent roles off the bench, while the Heat trot out Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Joel Anthony. While Fisher and Collison dont strike fear in anyone, James Harden alone makes the Thunder’s bench much more formidable than the Heat bench. I am sure Battier will get a lot of opportunities to guard Durant, and hopefully Mike Miller can hit a couple of outside shots, but this one isn’t even close. Advantage Thunder.
Prediction: As soon as the Finals were set, my initial reaction was that the Thunder would win, just because they have been able to get more out of their supporting cast in these playoffs. After really looking at the numbers and breaking down the teams position by position, I actually feel much better about the Heat’s chances, and having the reigning MVP doesn’t hurt either. Heat in 7.