NBA Playoffs: Heat-Thunder Clash Should Be Electric
Here it is: the ultimate matchup. LBJ, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh versus Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Big Hype against Big Hope. Evil versus, um, Good... or something. DALE PERTH can’t quite figure out the Us vs. Them stuff, but whatever: the final series has arrived, and that's what matters.
It’s time for the yearly tug-of-war — not for NBA supremacy per se, but what has become the annual test of wills between LeBron James and his crew, and the legions of Heat-haters out there.
For back-to-back seasons now, Miami’s finest have been pointed and laughed at as they failed to live up to their boastfulness about all the championships their “talents” would bring to South Beach. It’s time to squelch the smack talk, step back and consider the contest.
The Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder are the two best teams remaining in the chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. At the end of the regular season, these teams were the second seed in their respective conferences, but they’re the ones still standing. They also represent a changing of the guard, from the old (San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics) to the new.
Both had explosive offenses in the regular season: OKC’s 103.1-point average ranked third in the NBA, while the Heat’s 98.5 had them in seventh spot. The defenses were slightly different, as Miami’s stingy 92.5 points allowed was good enough for fourth; OKC’s 96.9 put them in the middle of the pack in 17th place.
While they don't have as much playoff experience as Miami, the Thunder rolled with the top-rated offense in the post-season at 102.3 points per game as the Heat managed 96.1 PPG, still good enough for fourth. Miami once again outshined their hosts in points allowed (88.1, fourth vs. 95.7, 10th).
Oklahoma City rules at home: their 106-point average (102.3 PPG in the playoffs) at the Chesapeake Energy Arena led the league in the regular season and the playoffs. It will task the Heat defense to withstand OKC’s attack. But then there’s the LeBron Factor to consider: while it’s true that he has underperformed in the past two Final series, the way he destroyed the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of their series with his 45-point tally should give anyone pause.
The NBA betting line for Game 1 has the Thunder as five-point favorites at home, with the Over/Under at 195.5 at the time this preview was posted. The futures betting also touts OKC to take the championship in almost every posted wagering category. If the Under seems like a reasonable proposition for the opener, watch if the line shifts at halftime; you will likely want to hedge if the two teams have combined for 100 points or more by that point. They’ve only gone Over once in their last five meetings, but it’s always better to be careful.