LeBron and KD may be at center-stage, but the fate of this Finals rests with two other super-stars.
There is no way to describe how perfect of a match-up this NBA Finals is. The storylines abound in this star-studded series. Four players finished in the top ten for Player Efficiency Rating (PER) during this regular season. LeBron finished 1st for the fifth year in a row, something only Shaq, Jordan, Kareem, and Wilt have done. Wade finished 3rd for his fourth top three finish in a row. Kevin Durant followed Wade at 4th, while Russell Westbrook finished at number 9.The series contains a host of other exceptional players as well, such as the reintegrated Chris Bosh for the Heat and James Harden for the Thunder.
Without question, it will be an entertaining and competitive series. Experts will look to many different factors when determining who has the edge. The Thunder’s depth, size, and home-court could prove to be troublesome for the Heat. Meanwhile, the Heat have the best player on the court, better interior scoring with Chris Bosh, and better overall defense.
However, despite all the factors that could swing this evenly-matched series either way, people like to make this series about LeBron vs. KD. True, they are possibly the two best players in the league (certainly the two best small-forwards) and their play is vital to their teams’ success. However, looking at their playoff numbers, we know what we can expect: exceptional play. James and Durant are number 1 and 2, respectively, in PER and Offensive Win Shares this postseason. However, when it comes to defense, it is no contest. While Durant is an underrated defender and actually has a better on ball points per possession rating than LeBron, his numbers are nowhere near LeBron’s Defensive Rating and Defensive Win Shares. So while Kevin Durant may be virtually unguardable, James is up to the task of containing him. Bottomline is: we can expect about 30 points on about 47% shooting each game from both players. Their play this posteason has been very strong and very consistent.
However, the two other super-stars in this series, Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook, are a little more unpredictable. Both have seen their offensive efficiency numbers decrease from the regular season and fluctuate from game to game. Wade has been brilliant at times, such as his 41 point game versus the Pacers, but at others he has been abysmal, such as Game 3 of that Indiana series. Westbrook played quite well the first two rounds of the playoffs, and his assist to turnover ratio has improved significantly from the regular season. However, the last series versus the Spurs was very forgettable, as he was outplayed by Tony Parker and only shot 38% from the field. His poor shooting in Games 3 and 4 was covered by Kevin Durant.
Wade and Westbrook are two special scorers. Defensively, Wade has the edge, but Westbrook is no slouch. My guess is that Wade will guard Westbrook most of the series, but offensively he may have to face a heavy dose of Thabo Sefalosha.
Ultimately, I believe this series comes down to which of these two players plays better. Wade was so passive at times during the Boston series, but at others he was able to take over the game with smart attacks at the basket. He took over a Finals in 2006, and carried the Heat to a championship after being down two games to none. He’s certainly a better player now than he was then, so basic logic would imply that, if need be, he could take LeBron’s place as the number one option on this team. He hasn’t played like that very often this postseason, but if he does, he makes the Heat unstoppable. 35 a night from LeBron and D-Wade is two things: accomplish-able and unstoppable.
Westbrook is much less proven than Wade, and, because he is such a jump-shooter, much less reliable. Westbrook does have the power, to some extent, to lift the Thunder to an entirely different level of play. He’s that talented and surrounded by that talented of a team. However, more easily and more likely, he has the power to destroy the Thunder. If he displays his characteristically bad shot-selection and shoot anywhere near as many shots as Kevin Durant, the Thunder cannot win. The Thunder are better served by Westbrook doing his best to not hurt the team, rather than trying to carry them. If he just takes what the defense gives him, and uses the pass-and-kick to keep pressure on the defense rather than the pass-and-shoot-a-contested-shot, OKC’s offense will score big numbers.
Talk about LBJ vs. KD all you want. Mention Serge Ibaka and Chris Bosh while you’re at it. Throw in James Harden and Mario Chalmers just for good measure. There are many important factors in this series, but none so crucial or unpredictable as the play of Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.
So, to summarize the series:
The Miami Heat will win if: LeBron continues business as usual, Wade plays the way we all know he is capable of, and the role-players provide important contributions like Chalmers and Battier did in Game 7 of the East Finals.
Biggest Concern: Who will make the big shots in close games?
Biggest Obstacle: Playing four games in OKC.
Wildcard: Will Mike Miller shoot well from 3?
The Oklahoma City Thunder will win if: Kevin Durant is given the ball in crucial situations, the jump-shot does not desert Westbrook and Harden, and Ibaka and Perkins plays smart and tough in the post.
Biggest Concern: Westbrook’s shot selection.
Biggest Obstacle: Stopping LeBron James.
Wildcard: Derek Fisher’s experience vs. the youth of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.
SneakyGoodSportsGuy selects: The Miami Heat steal one in OKC, win two out of three at home, and finish the job in game 6 to become NBA Champions. LeBron James will be Finals MVP.
What do you think? Who is going to win the Finals? Selecting a winner was not easy for me. Like, comment, subscribe, post to Facebook and Twitter, email at email@example.com. Thank you for reading!