Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Heat vs. Thunder--Pick the Thunder

Picking a winner in the NBA Finals, which begin tonight in Oklahoma City, would have been a lot easier last week. Back then the Miami Heat's best big man Chris Bosh, was still out with an abdominal strain. Without him clogging the middle, the Oklahoma Thunder would have cruised to the title.

But Bosh is back.

The Heat's LeBron James got the credit for his dominant play in last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, after the Boston Celtics took a shocking 3-2 lead. But Bosh, back in the lineup, was a huge factor in those two wins. The Celtics, who had been ruling the interior, and putting an extra defender on both James and Dwyane Wade, couldn't do that any more. One reason James scored all those points in those last two games is that he wasn't as tightly defended, 3because the Heat had to also focus on Bosh.

Now picking a winner isn't so easy. There are solid reasons to pick either team. With Bosh healthy, Miami has its high-flying big three--including Wade and James--again. Arguably the Heat struggles with the Indiana Pacers and the Celtics, both inferior teams, were due to the absence of Bosh. There's a perception that the Heat, which wobbled to the title, is weak.

Meanwhile, the Thunder, which had a tougher road to the Western title, looks strong, wiping out some tough teams, including the Lakers and the Spurs. Beating the Spurs in six games really spurred fans and media to board the Thunder bandwagon. Entering the playoffs, the Spurs looked unbeatable. But, after sizing up San Antonio in the first two games, both Thunder losses, OKC blew them away in the next four games.

Quite simply, the West is far superior to the East. So the Thunder, having steamrolled some solid teams on the way to the Finals, looks like a better bet to win the NBA title. Outside of Miami, none of the East's best--Chicago, Boston, Indiana and Atlanta--would fare well in contests against the cream of the West. If transplanted to the East, either the Lakers or the Spurs might be in the Finals, instead of Miami.

Also, the top six Thunder players--Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha--are just better than the Heat's top six. Miami's real advantage is experience, having played in the Finals last year, losing to the Dallas Mavericks. But this is the Thunder's first trip to the Finals. Jitters, particularly in the first two games, could do them in. The antidote for jitters, though, is something OKC has--home-court advantage. The team plays exceptionally at Chespeake Energy Arena. So far in the playoffs, the team is 8-0 there.

OKC is favored both in the series and, by five, in tonight's game. Look for the Thunder to win the NBA title.