There aren’t that many games on the NBA regular season calendar you eagerly anticipate even before it begins. This one, a rematch of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, featuring the two best basketball players on the planet, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is one of those rare cases.
Like before the finals series last season, the Thunder are probably slight favorites to win this one. They’ve been the more consistent team this season of the two, losing only once in their last 13 games. If there was an MVP vote right now, Kevin Durant would probably win the award. His scoring is just as good as ever, probably even better as he becomes an even more dangerous post player, and his all-around game, both in rebounding and his distribution and actual willingness to look for an open player instead of just passing the ball and giving someone else the chance to make the decision, has gotten much better. In numbers, it translates into 27.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
His sidekick hasn’t even been drawing too much criticism lately, although the loss to the Timberwolves, momentarily, brought back all of the old ghosts regarding his shot selection and tendency to fall asleep on defense, even when the game is on the line. However, it’s hard to ignore that Westbrook is listening and making an effort to change, maybe thanks to Brooks, maybe because of the fans. He’s still attempting more field goals than Durant, shooting a pretty bad 40.7% from the field, but he does have 8.8 assists per game while averaging 21.4 points.
In an individual scoring duel, LeBron James will probably lose. He did talk about the fact that if he wanted to, he could score more than Bryant, Durant and Carmelo Anthony, but he realizes that most of the time, it’s better if he tries to make those around him work instead of padding his individual stats. In big games, and the last postseason, we saw that sometimes when he’s selfish it is the best solution for the struggling Heat. James is averaging the usual impressive numbers with 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists, leading the team in all three categories.
In terms of form, the Heat are back where they though they would be – winning their last four games by an average margin of 18 points, while holding their opponents to 87 points per game. The Thunder still have the better record, 21-5, but might be slightly worried about never winning a Christmas game on the road. That’s just looking for numbers that don’t mean anything though. The more important fact is that they failed to beat the Heat in the finals in Miami, and also in the regular season last year when the two met in South Beach.
It’ll fall down not to Durant or James, no matter how much they score. It’ll be up to Chris Bosh’s ability to do what he did in last year’s finals, which was making one of the big men for the Tunder look redundant and cause Scott Brooks all kinds of problems. It’ll be about whether Kevin Martin manages to be more than just an option for a shot from outside, which is something the Heat have adjusted to pretty well in recent weeks. This is, after all, a regular season game, and unlike the playoffs when times slows down and everyone just looks to the superstars to make things happen, the “little guys” will win this one, with the little things they do so well.