Friday, May 4, 2012
Are the Dynamic Duo and Miami Thrice on a collision course?
2012 NBA Finals. Thunder vs. Heat. We're not even through the first round of the playoffs and we're already talking Finals? Yep! Here's why. In the short-term, both the Heat and Thunder are 3-0 in their respective playoff series, each 2-seed taking care of business at home before humiliating their opponents on the road as well. The only true competition for the Miami Heat out East are the Chicago Bulls…errr, were the Chicago Bulls before Derrick Rose shredded his knee in their first playoff game. Without Dwight Howard, the Heat won't have an issue with the Magic either. Even without a Rose or Howard-like superstar, the Celtics should be a formidable foe for the Heat. But with an injured Ray Allen, the suddenly-loose cannon that is Rajon Rondo and a cast of role players that just isn't strong enough, I can't imagine the old Big Three truly challenging the new Big Three in a seven-game series. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are just too damn good. At 27 and 30 years old respectively, James and Wade are are young enough to stay healthy and quick but old enough to each have the experience of multiple NBA Finals appearances under their belts. A few bumps on the road for the Heat during the regular season probably won't prove to be anything more than that; a few bumps on the road. When you can overcome a dreadful 36-point first half in your first-ever playoff game in Madison Square Garden by combining for 52 points (James & Wade), logging seven more turnovers than assists, shooting under 43 percent and still win the game, well that's a pretty good sign, A'mare or not! Sure, the Heat bench was dreadful in Game 3, but that shouldn't be problematic until the Finals (barring a Big Three injury, of course). Should the Heat ultimately face the Thunder for an NBA Championship, Miami will definitely have its hands full. Oklahoma City's nucleus of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is fast, furious, fresh and youthful as both guys are just 23 years old. That said, OKC's road to the finals will be significantly tougher than that of the Heat. Let's start with the positives. The Thunder ruled the roost out West up until the very end of the season slipping into the 2-seed behind the surprisingly strong San Antonio Spurs. Not only did Durant and Westbrook do their jobs in the shortened season, but James Harden and Serge Ibaka stepped up big time, giving OKC the extra edge necessary to beat more experienced teams like the Spurs and Lakers. OKC is one tough group to defend. If you couple Westbrook's skill with the inherent mismatch that Durant creates and add on the championship and playoff experience of big man Kendrick Perkins, well, that's not a group that I want to play against. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks. Durant excelled under pressure thus far, taking and making the big shots in the the Thunders' first two wins over the Mavs. But an underperforming Mavericks team in the first round of the playoffs is a completely different animal than the Spurs, in San Anontio, in the conference finals. This is the part where we doubt the Thunder. While the Thunder is a young team which definitely gives them an edge in terms of speed, the transition game and playing with a high level of energy consistently, younger doesn't always equal better (a lesson that rings true in various areas of life). The Spurs might be old, but they are scary as hell this season. Coach Gregg Popovich rested his guys at the right times and San Antonio has seen huge returns as a result. The Thunder might be able to outrun the spurs, but can they outsmart them, make better shot selections or come up with a better plan of attack then the proven champion Spurs? I'm not so sure. It's easy to get lost in the cloud of young, hot superstar point guards Westbrook and Rondo, but most have completely overlooked the monster season Tony Parker is having in Texas. It feel like he's been around for forever, but Parker is just on the verge of 30 years old and in the Spurs' two wins over Utah, he's built a sick stat line: 23 points per game, four rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.5 turnovers. Oh ya, he's also shooting 55 percent from the field. But before the Spurs, the Thunder will likely have to worry about the Lakers. OKC looked great against L.A. in the regular season, taking two of three games, the only loss coming in double overtime on the road. The sad truth for the Thunder is that the Lakers team we've seen take down Denver in these playoffs is not the same team OKC faced in the regular season. Even without Metta World Peace, the Lakers defense has been stifling and their bigs are playing with precision. Should Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol manage to play against the Thunder the same way in which they are against the Nuggets, OKC could be in trouble. If the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder are all playing at their highest potential, who wins that battle? It's too close to call now, but by the time the Conference Finals roll around, we should have a better idea of who the best in the West really is.