If the Oklahoma City Thunder are to have a chance in the NBA Finals, they will need to slow down LeBron James.
If the Miami Heat hope to have a shot, they will have to try to contain Kevin Durant.
Best wishes to them, too.
If the Heat’s Dwyane Wade or Thunder’s Russell Westbrook go nuts… well, we’re not really telling you anything you don’t know.
What makes these Finals so interesting is that James likely will match up with Durant, and perhaps Wade with Westbrook.
But those are only the biggest names and brightest stars. You also have to consider the Heat’s Chris Bosh and, to a lesser extent, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem. You also have to a keep close eye on the Thunder’s James Harden and Serge Ibaka.
Of course, the ringer may be Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, a longtime James nemesis who makes his millions by protecting the rim, and if need be, toss aside anyone who dares come near it.
Or maybe it’s Heat forward Shane Battier, an underrated wing defender and occasional maker of 3-point shots.
Bottom line: This is a best-of-seven series that has it all.
The young, deep Thunder against the star-driven Heat. Or as some outside of Miami-Dade County might tell you, the good (Thunder) vs. the evil (the other guys).
Oklahoma City is the fun-loving team that gets up and down the court in the blink of an eye. Miami can crush you if you turn the ball over and let James and Wade fill the fast-break lanes. Neither is too shabby in the half-court, either – with Durant, Westbrook, James and Wade all capable of firing up some doozies as the shot clock expires.
Then there are the coaches.
The job of Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is more difficult than it looks. He has to manage three huge personalities while making sure the supporting cast isn’t ignored — and actually contributes.
Meanwhile, OKC’s Scott Brooks must find enough shots for both Durant and Westbrook and then try not to skip a beat when implementing a second unit that features Harden.
Both the Heat and Thunder are coming off victories over older teams that appeared to be on the verge of one last-gasp run. The Heat won two straight to shovel a little dirt on the Celtics’ basketball grave. The Thunder overcame a 2-0 hole and a Spurs team that had won 20 straight to show the world they’re not too ripe to adjust.
James and Wade haven’t had to chase around anyone like Durant and Westbrook this postseason. Durant and Westbrook have never played on this grand of a stage.
So who has the advantage?
We aren’t likely to know for another six or seven games.
The Thunder own home-court advantage; the Heat know how to win biggies on the road. The Thunder own a physical center, who used to keep James at bay during Perkins’ days with the Celtics and James’ with the Cavaliers. But the Heat, it’s pretty evident, have yet to shy from a challenge.
So it’s impossible to find two teams more accomplished, more battle-proven, more ready for this platform. The Thunder are younger, but the Heat are hardly old. The Thunder strive to work the ball for the best possible shot, but the Heat thrive on stepping into passing lanes. The Thunder figure you out and break you down, but the Heat possess head-scratching ability to thwart your every move.
On paper, it’s too hard to predict. On the court, it should be too good to miss.