How excited are you for Heat-Thunder? Is this the most compelling Finals series possible?
Joe Bendiez: I am very excited for this series. We have a great match-up in Durant vs. LeBron, and the atmosphere should be electric. It definitely is one of the most compelling, because of all the story lines, but I think it would be even more compelling for it to be the Spurs. Not just because I am a San Antonio fan, but the Thunder have nothing to show for in their franchise. It would be better for LeBron to beat a perennial power like the Spurs or Lakers, because it would be more impacting and meaningful. Although, the Thunder will gain “perennial power” in the coming years the way they are playing.
Quixem Ramirez: As excited as I could possibly be for a non-Spurs Finals, I suppose. (Cue the choked tears and sniffled nose.)
From a basketball standpoint, though, I couldn’t have asked for more. Personally, I would have enjoyed Spurs-Bulls (before the Rose injury) because the prospect of Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich dueling for the title is especially intriguing. I’d also prefer Spurs-Magic but that’s just because I prefer my blood pressure to stay relatively low. But Thunder-Heat is a pretty formidable consolation prize. Thanks NBA?
June 4, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guards Russell Westbrook (0) and James Harden (13) talk against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half in game five of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT
Besides LeBron and Durant, who do you believe is the most important player in this series?
JB: Russell Westbrook. He may not have a tough assignment in Mario Chalmers, but Westbrook has to avoid making stupid mistakes in crunch time. He almost cost the Thunder Game 5, and he has to put the ball in Durant’s hands. He can not be selfish, and if he can become a leader and mature like the rest of the team, it is game over for Miami.
QR: Russell Westbrook. The incorrect perception among many fans is that Westbrook is a detriment to his team when he goes rogue and starts jacking up long 2-pointers, subjecting to Kevin Durant standing idly on the perimeter. While Oklahoma City would rather have Durant creating for himself because he’s more efficient, Westbrook isn’t exactly an awful fall back option. He generated 6.1 attempts at the rim in the regular season which causes the defense to break down at the point of attack.
When the defense walls off the interior and forces Westbrook to settle for a mid-range jumper, he’s also capable of doing so, converting 41% of shots past 10 feet. He’s increased that efficiency to 46% in the playoffs and he’s reduced his turnovers significantly in a limited sample size. Oklahoma City has juxtaposed their elite assets — Durant, Harden, Westbrook — in more lineups in the postseason. These lineups have had tremendous success especially offensively. The worst lineup with at least 20 minutes together still produced an impressive 106.5 points per 100 possessions. My point? If Westbrook continues to add another lethal asset to the Thunder attack, how will Miami possibly contain them? They could switch LeBron on to him but then that leaves Durant on the perimeter in a likely mismatch.
June 7, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) defends against Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) during the third quarter of game six of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
The Heat will win if …
JB: LeBron James can sustain a high level of intensity and prove he could be the one guy in the league that can guard Durant.
QR: LeBron James does more LeBron James things which include (but are not limited to): Defending the best perimeter scorer(s), banging with big men in the paint, feeding his incompetent teammates on the perimeter, corralling the rebound on the majority of possessions, scoring at least 25 points, playing the entire game and still garnering the ire of the national media because he just doesn’t do enough. Life is unfair.
The Thunder will in if …
JB: The shots keep falling. They have made things look so easy, and if they can keeping draining them, it is over.
QR: If either A) LeBron James falls off the face of the earth or B) they score more points than Miami.