You have a three-time scoring champion in Kevin Durant vs. a three-time MVP in LeBron James. You have arguably the two most exciting teams in the NBA. You have six of the 18 finalists for Team USA. You have a dream matchup for the NBA and its fans. But who will win? We'll know when we get the answers to these 10 burning questions.
Who's better? LeBron or Durant?
At the ages of 27 and 23, respectively, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two best players in the world, with each vying for his first ring. It's the first time the two leading MVP vote-getters have met in the Finals since Michael Jordan faced Karl Malone in 1998. It may be the best individual matchup since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson battled three times in the Finals in the 1980s. The best part is they play the same position and will frequently guard each other. LeBron may have a slight edge as a player, but Durant seems to have more help. It's hard to imagine the Heat prevailing if James doesn't consistently outplay Durant.
How big is home-court advantage?
Oklahoma City's fans may be the loudest and most enthusiastic in the league. It's more of a college atmosphere that fits their young players and creates tremendous energy inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder are 8-0 at home in the playoffs and will host Games 1 and 2, plus 6 and 7 if necessary. That means the Heat must win at least once on the road and try to hold serve at home, where they are very good despite having a notoriously late-arriving crowd that sits on its hands unless things are going well.
Will Dwyane Wade play like a superstar?
In 2006, Wade turned in perhaps the greatest Finals performance in NBA history, averaging 34.6 points in a six-game defeat of the Mavericks. He was very good in last year's Finals, averaging 26.7 points, 7 rebounds and 5.2 assists, but was let down by LeBron James and his other teammates. Wade has been inconsistent throughout these playoffs, producing empty halves and scoring binges. That won't cut it against the Thunder, who are much better than anyone Miami faced in the East. Wade and LeBron both must be at their best.
Can Russell Westbrook stay under control?
Basketball purists aren't crazy about Westbrook, who shoots too much for their liking, and he took much of the blame for last year's loss to the Mavs in the conference finals. But while he's still relentlessly aggressive, the 23-year-old point guard seems to have grown up fast. By cutting down on turnovers in the playoffs and deferring to Kevin Durant and James Harden when appropriate, he's helped lead the Thunder to the cusp of a championship. The pressure of a Finals may cause him to try to do too much, hurting the team. But if he's able to channel his energies in a positive direction and keep his teammates involved, Oklahoma City will be tough to stop.
Who has a better bench?
The starting fives for each team appear to be evenly matched. Where Oklahoma City has a distinct advantage is its second unit, headed by James Harden (left), the Sixth Man of the Year and an elite scorer and playmaker. The addition of Derek Fisher (right) bolstered a bench that also includes banger Nick Collison and sharpshooter Daequan Cook. The Heat only have two dependable players in reserve: Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. Because of that, LeBron James may not leave the court.
What will they wear?
It has nothing to do with basketball and we're not sure what it has to do with fashion. But the postgame attire of the Thunder and Heat stars has been a source of curiosity all season. Unnecessary glasses. Strange shirts. Bold colors and mismatched fabrics. Geek chic is in. The postgame press conferences will be worth watching just to see what Russell Westbrook (left) pulled out of his closet.
Can the Thunder protect the rim?
The Thunder were first in the league in blocks and second in field-goal percentage defense, thanks in large part to big men Serge Ibaka (left) and Kendrick Perkins (right). Those two must be ready to help when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade beat their defenders and attack the basket. To keep Oklahoma City from clogging the lane, the Heat may go small and use Chris Bosh at center.
Is Chris Bosh completely healthy?
If nothing else, Heat fans have come to appreciate Bosh during these playoffs. After he suffered an abdominal strain in Game 1 of the conference semifinals, Miami struggled to beat Indiana, then barely beat a beat-up Boston team. Had Bosh not returned for the last three games, scoring 19 in Game 7, the Heat would probably be finished. He'll be crucial against the high-powered Thunder as a rebounder, defender and third scorer. If he's still physically hampered, Miami won't be able to match up.
Are the Thunder ready to reign?
No team in NBA history has won a championship with a core of players as young as Oklahoma City's. Kevin Durant (left) and Russell Westbrook (right) are 23. James Harden and Serge Ibaka are 22. Most teams and most stars have to pay their dues and learn from playoff failures before becoming champs. In that respect, LeBron James seems due for his first title. But the Thunder, precocious and fearless, don't seem inclined to wait their turn.
Will LeBron earn his first ring?
When LeBron James took his talents to South Beach two summers ago, many critics argued that he was taking the easy way to a title. Even if he won a championship, he wouldn't be earning it. As it turns out, that's hardly true. LeBron has had to play the best basketball of his life in these playoffs to carry the Heat this far. And his greatest challenge lies ahead. Against a freakishly talented, deep Thunder team, he'll have to be sharp in every facet of the game, whether it's scoring, rebounding, passing or defending Kevin Durant. If Miami loses, you know he'll get the blame. But if the Heat win, you have to admit he'll have worked long and hard for that first ring.