Thunder vs. Heat: Don't Lose the Ball! (2011-2012 Game 54 Preview)

There's no question in my mind: Erik Spoelstra posed for this picture.

GAMETHREAD at 7! It's the best game of the season, there's no reason to miss it!

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (40-13) vs. The Miami Heat (38-14)

Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: The AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami Florida

TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Sun Sports

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 790 AM The Ticket

Enemy Blog(s): Peninsula is Mightier, Hot Hot Hoops

Previous Meeting(s): Mar. 25 (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)

So, after a blowout win two weeks ago that was part of a massive streak for success for the Thunder, the Heat come to town looking for revenge. But both teams have shown subtle signs of weakness since their last encounter.

The Thunder have gone on an impressive streak that includes a victory against the Bulls, but last night they were beaten by the Memphis Grizzlies, who were able to expose the Thunder's flaws by shutting down both of their superstars. When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren't scoring effectively, it's mighty hard for the Thunder to be successful.

The Heat, meanwhile, have pretty much treaded water. Immediately after the Thunder loss, they took a beating from Indiana. They proceeded to beat Dallas and Toronto quite handily, but crashed again with a blowout loss to the Celtics on Sunday. Yesterday, they rounded things off with a solid win over Philadelphia.

It's really hard to pin how this one will go. If the Thunder can gain an advantage early, it's likely that the Heat will just let the game go, given their penchant for blowout losses. But if the Heat sense weakness in the Thunder, then they'll attack viciously, doing whatever it takes for a win.

Though the reason for yesterday's loss was mainly due to underperformance from the Thunder's stars, tonight's game will likely come down to who can take care of the ball. The Heat don't have any super-effective shut down defenders, and there's always weaknesses present in any lineup they roll out on the floor. But they live off of turnovers and steals that they can turn into quick points. Additionally, the Thunder like to get out in transition and pressure, a tactic that can work really well against a team that loves the isolation play.

Because of the Heat's willingness to pressure, the Thunder will have to look to their role players to score, particularly in the post. Perkins and Ibaka got a lot of freebies inside when the Thunder played the Heat last, because the Heat will be so focused on keeping the player on the drive out of the lane, they'll forget about the player on the other side of the block. Another reason for Ibaka's success last time was Chris Bosh's unwillingness to come out to mid-range and guard him. If Ibaka can hit that shot tonight, the Thunder should be in business.

Since both teams have something to prove tonight heading into the playoffs, I'm expecting a matchup that goes down to the wire. Expect lots of highlight reel dunks, open shots, and buttery hands out there.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 107, Miami Heat 106

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