This also counts as an open thread, so feel free to post your thoughts during the game here.
Time: 6:30 PM Central Standard Time
Place: The American Airlines Arena (Not Center!)
TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Sun Sports
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1)
Backstory: Remember Orlando? Remember San Antonio? Well, forget them. The team of this year seems to be the Miami Heat. Their only losses have come to the equally hot Suns, and the LeBron-laden Cavaliers. Why are the Heat so good? Well, if you saw them last year, it's no surprise, but it is a bit unexpected. For one, Jermaine O'Neal played in 8 of those games, and when everybody is healthy, the team does well. For two, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers are no longer rookies, and have a firm hold on what it takes to play in the NBA. For three, Carlos Arroyo and Quentin Richardson have added some much needed depth to the team, so they no longer have to play guys like James Jones and Jamaal Magloire. Jermaine O'Neal and Mario Chalmers are going to be iffy if they do come into the game, but I wouldn't pay any mind to that. I have a feeling they'll both be ready to play. It is worth noting, however, that the Heat barely beat the winless Nets without Chalmers and O'Neal.
Meanwhile, the Thunder have been iffy all across the board, winning and losing both bad and good games. They have no injuries to speak of, but I'm not sure if they can win this game. The Heat are very inside-oriented, with Dwayne Wade getting his usual phantom fouls, Jermaine O'Neal being an inside bruiser, and pretty much everyone on the roster sans ill-used Daequan Cook able to drive inside. We don't have very tough defense inside, and if they're able to score inside, and we're forced into mid-range jumpers and 3s, than we're in trouble. Hopefully, they'll be willing to play a faster paced game with us, and we can avoid that happening.
Below: Matchups, Prediction
Center: Nenad Krstic vs. Jermaine O'Neal
This one, really, is no contest. While Jermaine O'Neal is someone you'd think Krstic could exploit by shooting his infamous mid-range jumpers, he's countered in the front court my Michael Beasley and faster backup Joel Anthony, who could both easily catch up with Krstic. And he stands no chance against O'Neal inside, so O'neal is the easy winner here if he plays. If he doesn't, I'll give the win to Krstic, simply because he'll be a giant among men.
Power Forward: Jeff Green vs. Michael Beasley
This will be interesting to watch. Can Jeff Green compete against Michael Beasley, who in many ways is his counterpart? In many ways, I'd like to think so, as long as he stays out of foul trouble.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Quentin Richardson
Quentin Richardson is solid, but it's no secret that he's the weakness in the Heat lineup, if you want to call it that. I expect Kevin Durant to exploit this fully.
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Dwayne Wade
Thabo is a good defender, but there's no way he's touching Dwayne Wade. Dwayne Wade will just keep running past him or drawing phantom fouls, so Thabo might as well just stand there. Lets hope that he doesn't miss too many 3s.
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Mario Chalmers
Chalmers is more of a shooter and Westbrook is more of a driver, but both of them can dish out assists and defend. Fortunately, Westbrook is a much better rebounder, which gives him a slight edge in this matchup.
Battle of the Benches:
Miami has solid backups at every position, and usually goes 5 deep, whereas the Thunder usually only go 4 deep. Fatigue shouldn't be an issue, but I think the Heat are the winner here, because Udonis Haslem provides better numbers off the bench than Nick Collison, and I think Dorrell Wright is more valuable than James Harden at this point. All things considered, they're still pretty close in caliber.
Coaching and Intangibles:
The Heat are at home, but they'll need a full performance from O'Neal and Chalmers if they expect to win. Without them, the team looks pretty bad, I won't lie. All of the intangibles rest on those two men.
If the Thunder can focus on driving the ball inside, take advantage of when O'Neal isn't in the game, hope that Dwayne Wade won't explode on them, and not brick so many threes, they'll have a fair shot at this one. Unfortunately, a full strength to 95% strength Heat team is just better than the Thunder at this point. They're a couple years ahead in development.
Prediction: Heat 103, Thunder 94
How do you think the game will go? Vote in the Poll!
And, again, feel free to drop any comments you might have during, before, or after the game below. I might be here during the game to drop my thoughts as well. Go Thunder!