The battle lines have been drawn. The 2012 NBA Finals will be a classic matchup of small media market versus large market and Oklahoma City's homemade team against Miami's store-brought roster.
Excuse the Star Wars reference, but since LeBron James abandoned his destiny as Cleveland's Chosen One to join Dwyane Wade's pursuit of championships in South Beach, the same way Anakin Skywalker took his talents to the Sith, another superstar had to rise up to counter James. That someone may be Kevin Durant.
Therefore, it's only right that Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden earn comparisons to Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia. Skywalker Durant is be the key cog in overturning the Heat's Basketball Empire and like Han, Westbrook has a shoot-first mentality. Meanwhile, like Leia, Harden has the iconic hair.
Miami's Shooting woes continue
After shooting 1-11 outside the lane in Game 7, it's painfully obvious that James is still an incredibly streaky shooter. Oklahoma City will likely throw a combination of defenders including Durant, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha, at James. If James' streaky shooting continues, more pressure will be mounted on the shoulders of Wade and Chris Bosh.
Wade has never been a great shooter, but if he struggles getting to the rim with Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins guarding the rim, and scoring in transition, he may spend the majority of this series, he'll need a cement canister to along with all the bricks he'll be throwing up. Chris Bosh saved the Heat in Game 7 by shooting 3-for-4 from downtown but that won't continue. Mike Miller was intended to be Miami's marksman, but he can barely stand up straight due to his injured back.
If the Thunder and Heat benches were backup dancers, the Heat's bench led by Mike Miller, Norris Cole, Joel Anthony, James Jones and Udonis Haslem are the underwhelming Kevin Federline to their starting lineup's Britney Spears. Oklahoma City's bench led by Sixth Man of the Year James Harden and followed by Nick Collison, Thab Sefolosha and Derek Fisher are J. Lo during her prime In Living Colour years. In the post-season, Oklahoma City's bench is scoring 32.4 points per game. Miami's is averaging 16.2, ahead of only the Celtics and Lakers.
Dwyane Wade continues to wear down
Whether it's because of injury of fatigue, Wade has been leaving James on an island for much of the game in Miami's last two series and against Boston, he averaged just 21 points per game. Wade may have been saving himself for fourth quarter surges but if he continues to lag in the first half, Oklahoma City has much more offensive firepower than the Celtics and will open up huge leads on the Heat.
Miami's athleticism advantage will be null and void
Against Boston, the Heat were able to outlast the Celtics in part because of their youth and exceptional athleticism. Those easy points won't be as easy to come by against Oklahoma City, which can match Miami inch for inch in vertical leaps and in transition where Miami is best at scoring points.
The Forgotten Member of Oklahoma City's Big Three
Serge Ibaka has quickly become one of the best post defenders in the NBA and as shown by his 26-point, perfect shooting effort in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, his offensive repertoire is improving as well. In many ways, he's similar to Rajon Rondo, who was the plus one besides Boston's Big Three. He'll likely share the task of guarding James and Bosh, but if his performance this postseason is any indication, it wouldn't be smart to bet against him.
The Eye Test
The Heat have been pushed to the brink in the last two rounds against the Pacers and the Celtics, however, the Thunder are a notch, or two better than both of those teams. The Thunder are best team that the Heat have faced thus far and if the Heat don't step their games up a notch, the Thunder will put them in an early hole.
Meanwhile, the Thunder's youth being mentioned as a disadvantage hasn't held true in the playoffs since they defeated a trio of former champions en route to the NBA Finals. Conversely, it remains to be seen whether the Heat are the best team the Thunder have even played this month.