Yesterday, we tried to take the of LeBron James and the third time lucky notion, trying to create a foreshadowing that leads to the Miami Heat winning the NBA title; LeBron picking up his first title ring. But the number 3 works for Kevin Durant as well – Winning the scoring title for the third time, and into his third playoff run with the Thunder.
In terms of talent and depth, I think few would argue that the Thunder are more talented team of the two and probably in the NBA. The biggest problem for the Miami Heat is that the Thunder, despite being an extremely young team, know just how good they are.
Going through the last three NBA champions from the West during this postseason – Sweeping the Mavericks, losing one game against the Lakers and coming back from 0-2 down against the San Antonio Spurs to win four straight games is all the experience they need to make up for what they lack on their resume. This team isn’t afraid of anyone, not anymore.
There’s the fatigue factor to consider. The Thunder haven’t played a game since June 6. That gave them a week of rest while the Miami Heat played two more games in that time-span. LeBron James has played at least 43 minutes in the last eight games for the Miami Heat, including just under 46 minutes a night in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics. He played 48 minutes in the Game 7 win. He’ll probably be playing just as much, with Chris Bosh or without him, in the series against the Thunder.
Kevin Durant is averaging 41.6 minutes this postseason. Russell Westbrook is averaging 37.1 minutes. James Harden is at 31.1. There’s enough rest to spread around this team, while Durant hardly goes off the floor. But the Thunder are usually at their best when Harden is on it, doing the point guard job while Russell Westbrook focuses on finishing.
The key for Miami’s fantastic finish to the series against Boston was the return of Chris Bosh, getting more and more minutes. It unhinged everything that was working for the Boston Celtics in their three consecutive wins. Kevin Garnett couldn’t afford to help on the driving LeBron James anymore, and when he did, especially in Game 7, Bosh punished him for it.
It was also great to see how the Miami defense was back to its old self with Bosh on the floor. They continued fronting Kevin Garnet, but the lob passes into the paint over Haslem or whoever it was that was guarding Garnett couldn’t work anymore because of Bosh’s long arms. He had a +16 and +17 in Games 6 and 7, averaging 29.5 minutes off the bench. Spoelstra is being secretive about whether he will start him or not, but it’ll be safe to assume Bosh won’t be playing less than 30 minutes a night.
The key for the Thunder and their big advantage is their inside players. If Serge Ibaka can turn things around like they did in the Spurs series, it’ll be much easier for the Thunder in the finals, the franchise’s first since 1996, back when it was called the Seattle Supersonics.
Heat players can’t afford to help on Perkins and Ibaka on the inside. Leaving Durant and Harden open is pretty close to suicide. It’s hard enough stopping them as it is, but the Heat need to trust the Chris Bosh-Udonis Haslem combo to keep the paint relatively closed. Their responsibility offensively is just as great. Drawing out Ibaka and Perkins by providing to be an outside threat, so Wade and James can find open routes to the basket.
In short, the Miami Heat need for more things to happen so they win this series. First and foremost is LeBron James not falling off his feet, playing 45 minutes a night and providing the same numbers (33 points, 11 rebounds) in the series against the Boston Celtics. Without that, the Thunder won’t need 7 games to win what might be the first in many NBA titles.