The heat is on in Miami

Whew. Got a little serious there. Back to some fun stuff: NBA playoffs and music. I’ll be writing some about music in the upcoming weeks. Now, the focus is the NBA finals.

If you’d told me two weeks ago it was going to be Thunder-Heat in the Finals, I’d have laughed in your face. I don’t think I’d seen a team look as strong as San Antonio since the Michael Jordan/Bulls championship era. Their Big Three – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker – were rested and rolling. The team was completely in synch, both offensively and defensively. As a lifelong hoops fan, it was fun to watch. They were using the fundamentals – stay between your man and the hoop, funnel driving quicksters to waiting big men, make the extra pass, keep your spacing, etc. – to absolutely demolish some quality teams. OKC’s young guns looked confused and frustrated. Scott Brooks and his squad deserve a lot of credit for coming back from those early beatings to upset San Antonio. In the East, the Celtics looked good, until Ray Allen’s ankle got ugly and Avery Bradley disappeared. Plus, LeBron James play elevated into the rarefied air occupied only by guys named Jordan, Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Reed, Russell, etc. It’s hard to stop a 6’8″ bull that runs like an antelope, especially when he’s got game oozing out every poor. Can’t blame Boston for coming up short … Sure, I’m a lifer Lakers fan, so I can always blame Danny Ainge, any day of the week and twice on Tuesday. But you can’t blame the players or Doc Rivers. They showed up at the OK Corral with their six guns, and the Heat showed up with AK-47’s.

The Thunder-Heat matchup is going to be fun. Here’s my take:

X-FACTORS

Thunder: Kendrick Perkins. What’s Scott Brooks going to do with him? Sure, he’s enormous, loves to bang, has six fouls and possesses the greatest scowl in the history of the NBA. But the Heat have nothing in the way of a traditional center. Perk isn’t fast enough to defend Bosh. Udonis Haslem, although smaller, is more of a quickness, energy guy, which could make it rough on Kendrick. And since Perkins isn’t a factor when it comes to scoring, you can’t take advantage of Haslem’s lack of height on the offensive end. The Heat are a poor matchup for Perkins. If he can clog the lane without fouling extensively, that would put pressure on LeBron and Dwyane Wade to hit jump shots. And if Perkins can use his size and toughness as an advantage on the boards, his impact would be important. But those are if’s. I’m not saying more Nick Collison is the answer, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brooks go small for extensive stretches to keep more shooters on the floor.

Heat: Chris Bosh. How healthy is he? That’s the real question. He played well in the final two games against Boston and didn’t act like he was favoring the injury. That said, if he take a few rough box outs or elbows from Kendrick Perkins, will his core take that? The Heat must have Bosh to win this. He’s their only frontcourt scoring threat. Without him, Serge Ibaka roams free on defense, leaving James and Wade in constant fear of having their shots blocked. Bosh doesn’t even need to have a great series. His presence is enough. But he has to be healthy.

THE PRESSURE IS ON …

Miami. All that title talk is haunting them. They were close last year, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now, the core of the team has played together for two seasons. They know each other. Offensively, there’s no awkward deferring on the part of Wade or James. Defensively, the entire unit fully understands its responsibilities and rotations. There’s no excuses. This is it.

PREDICTION

Oklahoma in seven. Don’t get me wrong; I can see Miami winning this. It’s a good matchup, and it wouldn’t take much to bend it just a bit in one direction or another. Plus LeBron has been lights out lately. But Miami has no interior threat defensively to contain the penetration of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. LeBron helps fill that gap some, but his responsibility is not to roam the lane. Plus, Serge Ibaka picked it up offensively against a tough Spurs defense. Chris Bosh isn’t a great individual defender, so Ibaka will be in play on that end of the floor. Thabo Sefalosha can defend LeBron, and a combination of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Derrick Fisher can be thrown at Wade. The lack of quality big men on the Heat even puts guys like Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward into play, if foul trouble or injury force Brooks deep on the bench. The Thunder are hungry and deadly, and after it took seven for Miami to upend an aging, injured Boston squad, OKC may be smelling blood in the water.

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