Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 NBA Finals Preview

How they got here:
The NBA lockout diverted negative attention away from the Miami Heat for the first time since LeBron James joined the team before the 2010-2011 season. The Heat, though displaying a better supporting cast, were not much more than a three-man squad this season. James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh comprised the big three. Point guard Mario Chalmers improved upon his impressive 2011 NBA Finals showing. The Heat acquired defensive standout Shane Battier, who played behind James and Wade.

The lockout helped the Oklahoma City Thunder the most. They are a young team with a good bit of roster continuity. Kevin Durant won his third straight scoring title and dramatically improved his ability to find his teammates for a score. Russell Westbrook's assist totals fell, but his scoring averages rose. James Harden, the sixth man of the year, took a giant step towards stardom this season. OKC features a slew of valuable role players, including the NBA's shot blocking leader, Serge Ibaka.

The playoff run:
Miami coasted past a beat up New York Knicks team. In Game 1 against the up-and-coming Indiana Pacers, Bosh went down with an abdominal strain. Miami dropped the next two games are trailed the underdog Pacers 2-1. Wade, who had been playing sluggishly in the series, came alive and with the help of James, Miami took the series, 4-2. Home teams prevailed in the first four games against the veteran Boston Celtics. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett carried the Celtics. Boston took Game 5 in Miami and the press wrote Miami's obituary. But impressive victories with Bosh back in the lineup in Games 6 & 7 brought Miami to the Finals.

Oklahoma City cruised by the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, 4-0. The Thunder lost only one game to the Los Angeles Lakers. Westbrook played fantastically in both series. The Thunder trailed the San Antonio Spurs 2-0 after two road games. The OKC crowd helped the role players reach their potential and the Thunder took two games at home. A surprising Game 5 win in San Antonio set the stage for a home win in Game 6.

Miami should take a competitive five game series. Durant is going to have trouble finding someone to guard. If Miami goes big and plays Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem, Durant will likely have to guard Wade and James. If Miami goes small, Durant could guard Battier, but then Ibaka will have to guard, and stay close to, Bosh. That will hurt the Thunder's shot blocking ability.

Miami is coming into the Finals with every intention of winning. After the Game 7 win against the Celtics, Miami was business-like. When the Thunder clinched a spot in the Finals, they celebrated as if they had won the championship. Though James has struggled in his two previous Finals experiences, he is playing at the top of his game right now. But the Heat tend to put up lemons every once in a while. The challenge will be to stay focused throughout.

The Thunder really seemed pleased to be in the Finals. But, they have the best crowd in the league and homecourt advantage. If they can play with more consistent energy than the Heat, the Thunder will have a shot to win the first all-weather Finals.

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