5 Key Points Heading into the NBA Finals Dream Match-Up
Stopping the Star Power: It would be easy to break the star power down according to individual matchups by pinning Lebron against Durant and Westbrook on Wade. However, overall team defense needs to be considered when discussing how a superstar will fare against a particular team. Neither squad features anything special down on the low post. This means the series will be filled with a lot of face-up and dribble drive opportunities. Small lineups means switches defensively. Defensively for the Thunder, Sefolosha will see most of his time on Wade. If Sefolosha can use his length to give Wade fits, then Westbrook will be able to tire him out offensively as well. Now, let’s face facts that Lebron will perform in is his stat-stuffing fashion. The Thunder’s objective will be to wear him out on both ends of the court. If this sounds like a similar tactic to handling Wade, it’s because it is. The OKC front court, mainly Ibaka and Perkins, will need to make him pay when he gets into the lane. They need to punish his body physically when he attacks the rim. Also, Lebron will be forced to guard a number of positions. Over the course of the series, he will see time on Durant, on Westbrook when he is at the points, and Harden. If the Thunder can concentrate on physically wearing these two out, their youth and fresh legs may become their most important asset as they know the Heat have nothing else past these two stars.
Psychological Warfare: Coming into this series, throughout this series, and even after this series, the majority of sports talk will be about legacy. What will a championship do for Lebron’s legacy? Where would Durant rank among the greats with a Finals MVP at the age of 23? They’ll ask if the Miami Heat should be blown up if they lose. They’ll try to decide how many more championships the Thunder can win with such a young core still intact. Ignoring the noise will be the hardest part for these players. The weight of the world will be on the shoulders of Lebron James. The rest of the Heat will carry that with them as well. The source of the Miami pressure comes from the fact that most NBA fans having been expecting a Lebron championship for 5+ years now. This expectation grew even greater when he joined the Heat. The Thunder’s source of pressure comes from their eye-opening young age. The biggest concern for OKC heading into the Finals is if the moment will be too big for them. Analysts will speculate and dissect which of the young core will freeze under the bright lights and which players will be able to take the attention in stride and thrive. Both teams will experience the same amount of pressure but will feel this pressure in completely different ways.
James Harden: Much of the X’s and O’s talk is going to be about Kevin Durant vs. Lebron James and Russell Westbrook vs. Dywane Wade. These are obviously the four biggest stars on the court, but will not see time on each as often as people may like. James Harden could become the X-factor in this series. He will cause extreme matchup problems for the Heat when he comes off the bench. No one player on the Heat second unit will be able to shut Harden down when he puts his head down and attacks the rim. Assuming Chris Bosh finds his way back into the starting lineup, Battier will come off the bench and would likely draw the assignment on Harden. This will be the Heat’s best bet as far as a one-on-one matchup goes. As mentioned previously, a lot of defensive switching will happen as each team will thrown out small lineups. Having Durant, Westbrook, and Harden on the floor simultaneously will force Miami to make some decisions. If the Heat are switching on every pick and roll, one of these three players will have a mismatch.
The Role Players: It is not a mystery to the average NBA fan that a lot of games are decided by the superstars. But, we know that the supporting cast can come up huge in pivotal situations as well. It was Fisher and Collison who stepped up for the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. For the Heat, it was Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Mario Chalmers that played huge down the stretch. Fisher was able to knock down huge 3-pointers when OKC was desperate for a bucket. Collison’s impact was felt on the defensive end of the floor. Battier and Miller are consistent spot-up 3-point shooters. Chalmers can knock down the long range shot while still being able to get to the rack. If the three important role players for the Heat are knocking down kick-out 3′s with the same consistency as the Eastern Conference Finals, the Thunder will have an extremely tough time shutting the Heat down. Since everything starts with Lebron and Wade attacking the rim, opening up the perimeter for their complementary players will spell disaster for the Thunder. Oklahoma City will need more production offensively from their bench if they have any shot. After the Thunder Big 3, they have only one player that averages 6+ PPG. Miami has 4.
Offensive Style: Considering the amount of star players in this series, it will be evident that each team will take advantage of isolating those players on offense. For OKC, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden can get their own shot. For Miami, Lebron, Wade, and Bosh can create space for their own shot. If these star players are knocking down shots early and getting to the rim, a defensive adjustment will most likely send double teams and traps at these players. Each team will make an effort to make the role players beat them. Whichever team’s stars can adjust to the added pressure from double teams, that team will have a clear-cut advantage. Being able to effectively scan the court for the open man will become an essential piece to consistent offense. The superstars must be able to pick their spots. Durant runs well off ball screens and should take advantage of the Heat’s over-aggressive defense. Westbrook should be able to get his pull-up jumper whenever he wants against Mario Chalmers. Lebron and Bosh should be able to take advantage of switches and weaker defenders on the post. Again, once each defense makes the adjustment to put the pressure on the opposing stars, an aspect that will help decide the series is those stars using their complementary players. If Russell is knocking down his shot off the pick and roll, the Heat will hedge farther and take the ball out of his hands. This is when Serge Ibaka must hit down the mid-range pick and pop jumper. If Lebron and Bosh are able to dominate in the post, the Thunder may send doubles from the weak side. If this is the case, Lebron and Bosh will have to make the conscious decision to kick it out for a wide open 3-pointer.
Thanks to our friends at Sports Media 101.