|2012-2013 NBA Season|
The Miami Heat (18-6)
|December 25th, 2012|
|The American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida|
|4:30 PM CST|
|American Broadcasting Company Only|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), 104.3 The Ticket|
|Hot Hot Hoops|
|Previous Meetings: None.|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Mario Chalmers|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Dwayne Wade|
|Kevin Durant||SF||LeBron James|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Udonis Haslem|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Chris Bosh|
Today's the day.
I could write about how incredibly epic this game is going to be, but all of you already know what's at stake. Regardless of whether we face the Heat in the finals again next year, pride is on the LINE! I don't know where that line is, but it's somewhere. Hopefully no one crosses it. It's a pretty fine line. I think.
Anyway, a good place to start this preview might be to examine what the Heat have gathered in terms of talent since the Finals. They've left behind the talents of Eddy Curry, Juwan Howard, and Ronny Turiaf. In their place have come Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and second round pick Josh Harrellson. This roster adjustment was a huge upgrade, but more importantly, it was an affirmation of the philosophy that Erik Spoelstra had begun to implement in the playoffs. You don't need to sign old men like Erick Dampier to hold down the paint for this team. Let LeBron's athleticism do the talking. Spread the floor on offense with lots of shooting options, and go for pressure on defense, while avoiding sending people to the line.
Because the team is so small, most people assume that they suffer in the rebounding department, and struggle to defend against big men. It's true that they're one of the league's worst rebounding teams, especially when it comes to offensive boards. But if you look at their losses, they usually end up on par with their opponents in both categories. The thing is, the Heat play at about an average pace for the league, but they shoot extremely high percentages and get to the line a lot, so rebounding usually isn't a big factor. In short, the Heat don't take a lot of shots, so they don't need to rebound a lot. The Thunder are similar in that they don't take a lot of shots, but they're different in that they shoot a lower percentage, get to the line more, and play at a faster pace, thus allowing for more rebounds.
In laymen's terms, the Heat are a killer, killer offensive team. Thus, when they fail it's usually a fault on that end. A bad three point shooting night can be an achilles heel. In 5 of their 6 losses, they were below their usual legue leading 41% from the three point line, sometimes shooting in the 20s.
Turnovers can also be a huge problem for the Heat sometimes. Generally, they're one of the league's better teams at handling the ball, and pass it extremely well under pressure. But sometimes, the pressure gets to them, and in the couple losses where their three point percentage was passable, they turned the ball over a whole lot.
Moreover, teams that beat the Heat can usually light it up from beyond the arc. In their losses, the Heat have allowed opposing teams to shoot a flabbergasting 46.1% from three. Obviously this was helped by playing the three-loving Knicks twice, but the percentage is still high. Mostly, the teams are taking advantage of the constant trapping that the Heat try to employ, or forcing the pace and throwing up quick shots.
Given all this information, can the Thunder take advantage of the Heat in the same way? Well, yes and no. We saw how badly the Thunder can shoot from three in Thursday's loss against the Timberwolves. Kevin Martin didn't play that game because of a left quad contusion, and it served to exemplify how essential of an ingredient he is to the Thunder's success. He'll definitely be back tonight, and the Thunder are going to need him to nail some shots from three, especially when they start to push the pace.
Still, the Thunder aren't the greatest when it comes to forcing turnovers, or defending the three point line. So the cards aren't really stacked in either team's favor in terms of statistics. But in terms of what we saw during last year's playoffs, it's hard to say that the Heat don't come into this game as favorites. During last year's series, they were able to completely exploit matchup advantages they had in terms of speed, rendering Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, and Serge Ibaka almost useless. They were able to space the floor and get maximum production out of their shooters, and they were able to avoid any serious turnover problems.
Today is a new day, and even though both teams haven't changed their core, they've definitely shifted their focus quite a bit. Serge Ibaka is a lot more offensively relevant right now, and provides the perfect counterbalance to Chris Bosh's offense. Kevin Martin gives the Thunder more consistency shooting the ball. Meanwhile, the Heat have better players to space the floor with, and no longer need a big man to roam the paint.
But, enough blathering on. I'm ready to get this game started. When I was a kid, I got a GameBoy Color for Christmas. It was the best gift I ever got. Nothing could ever beat that gift, but if the Thunder exacted revenge on the Heat today, it would come pretty darn close to doing so.
Also, a lot of good games remind me of Space Jam. Listen, and thank me later.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 102, Miami Heat 99.
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.