Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My NBA Finals preview

Just got back from the ATL and have welcomed by thunderstorms (no pun intended). I'm sure we'll see David Stern on TV at this series with a fake smile on his face. This series is not your "dream" series. This isn't the Lakers v the Celtics, a sure ratings and money bonanza. This is instead one very small-market team v a mid-level market team.

I will admit I haven't seen every game in this 2012 NBA playoffs but enough to draw this conclusion: the Thunder are the better TEAM and will win their first NBA title in 6 games. The Thunder have the best player in my humble opinion - Kevin Durant. Then the Heat have the next 3 best players - James, Wade and Bosh. Then the Thunder come again with Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden, Perkins and Sefolosha. The Heat have Chalmers, Battier, Miller and Haslem. Overall, head to head, the Thunder have the better roster. They have more players (mainly the bench) that I trust a whole lot more than the Heat bench. After you take out the Miami Big 3 there's quite a fall off. I don't see that with the Thunder - Collison, Cook, Fisher and Maynor bring a "certainess" that I like.

Not everyone will agree with me that Kevin Durant is the best player in this series. But look at the facts - he is the 3-time reigning NBA scoring champion. He is averaging over 27 points per game and over 50% FG in these playoffs and 87% FT. His defense has been pretty serviceable. Most importantly, he has hit shot after shot in the clutch. He killed the Lakers. He then killed the Spurs in 4 straight games after they went down 0-2. Where's Lebron? For the sake of this story I will exclude the 45/15 game.

I was watching "First Take" this morning and both Stephen A. Smith and Bruce Bowen were asked what "trust level" did they have with Lebron with the game on the line. On a 10 scale, both gave the reigning MVP a 5. A 5! Picture that - with the final shot, the best player in the NBA (in theory) you give only a 50% chance of making that shot? That's crazy! That doesn't equate to the best player! They didn't evaluate Durant, but I would give him a 9/10. He's proven repeatedly that he can make that shot over the last 2 years. If these games go to the crunch (regardless of whose court) I want the ball in Kevin Durant's hands. On the other hand, James seems more likely (or willing) to pass that ball in that situation. He was OK in a Cavaliers uniform but has downgraded significantly in a Heat uniform. But this is not a LeBron v Durant discussion.

The Thunder in these playoffs have 4 players averaging over 10 points a game. So do the Heat. The Thunder are averaging 102 points per game v the Heat's 96. The real big stat to me is the team free throw percentage. 83% for the Thunder v 72% for the Heat. In what shapes up to be a highly contested series, with lots of fouls, and throw in what has been very below par refereeing (to be polite) I think this series is detemined at the line. And here the Thunder take the points. They also have a clear home-court advantage. I lived in Tulsa OK for nearly 3 years and the Oklahoma fans are rabid and very, very passionate about their teams. The whole state will rally around the Thunder - I agree with the Governor here. Chesapeake Energy Arena will be LOUD - and the Thunder will feed off this passion and rise to the occasion. The Heat will get flustered by the crowd and the referees. I don't see them losing a home game. They only need to win 1 game in Miami. I predict they will win Games 1, 2, 4 (in Miami) and 6.

I don't know about the general population but I am excited by this series. It promises to be exciting with a lot of good players on the same court. The youth of the Thunder versus the experience of the Heat. The coaching will be even. Both Scott Brooks and Erik Spoelstra are under-valued coaches in my mind. Both teams will be desperate. But, Miami better pay attention to the weather forecast - severe Thunderstorm warning!

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