Tuesday, 12 June 2012
2012 NBA FINALS PREVIEW
By QUETT WALKER
Now that the NHL Stanley Cup winners have been decided, it’s the NBA’s turn to crown a new champion given that the reigning champions the Dallas Mavericks have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs. On Tuesday night the National Basketball Association 2012 Finals begin, with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat jostling to be the NBA’s last team standing in this final round of 7 game series.
Let’s start by previewing the different positions for both teams.
Point Guards: Russell Westbrook vs Mario Chalmers
Russell Westbrook is a very explosive shooting guard playing the point guard position. At 6’3’’ and 187lbs, his athleticism, quickness and ability to drive to the rim will definitely be a great challenge to the slower Mario Chalmers. Even though Westbrook possesses these traits, he’s known to be a bit reckless with the ball from time to time by trying to do too much thus contributing to an abundance of turnovers. However he has managed to play with a bit more control and this has tremendously decreased his turnovers during these playoffs.
Mario Chalmers has played solid throughout these playoffs but more so as a role player especially since Chris Bosh has been suffering from the injury bug. After Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, he has been consistent offensively while defensively he has been constantly abused by quicker guards during these playoffs (see Rajon Rondo).
Although both players are shooting 44% for the playoffs, given Westbrook’s quickness, athleticism, his advantage on the fast break and Mario Chalmer’s defensive inefficiencies, he should easily dominate this match up.
Shooting Guards: Thabo Sefolosha vs Dwyane Wade
Although I think Sefolosha will be guarding Lebron James most of this series, he is the starting shooting guard for OKC and therefore will be matched up against Dwayne Wade on the roster. Thabo’s speciality is his defensive prowess on and off the ball. Given is massive 7’5’’ wingspan, his defensive persistence and his balance offensive skills, this makes him a good overall product to combat against the explosiveness of Dwyane Wade and Lebron James during this series.
Dwyane Wade is the second best shooting guard in the NBA (behind Kobe Bryant of course). His quickness, ability to change direction on the drop of a dime, and his will to get to the basket at any time will no doubt entertain the massive audience that will tune in to watch the Finals this year. His stoic demeanour and his championship poise will definitely help the Heat to be a more focused basketball team this year.
Although Thabo Sefolosha’s length may slow Wade down a bit, expect big things from Wade this time around especially after the Heat’s disappointing performance in last year’s Finals.
Small Forwards: Kevin Durant vs Lebron James
This is the match up that the NBA fans across the world have been waiting to see, as for the first time since 1998, the NBA Finals will feature the top two finishers in the MVP race. Since Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls defeated Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz in 1998, the NBA Finals will have MVP Lebron James and MVP runner up Kevin Durant going toe to toe for their chance to win their first ever ring.
Kevin Durant definitely has the advantage with his perimeter shooting in the playoffs (36% vs James’ 28% according to NBA.com) and his ability to knock down clutch shots. At 6’10’’ KD has an advantage in height and length against James and therefore will allow him to see over the defence and get his shot off a bit more. One disadvantage with Durant is he sometimes fall into a state of unselfishness and therefore does not command the ball enough which limits his shot attempts and thus disrupts his offensive rhythm. In addition he can be taken out of his game by smaller more physical defenders in the post so expect Shane Battier to guard Kevin Durant for most of this series.
Lebron James is definitely a physical specimen and this allows him to be a force to be reckoned with. James is a better post player, rebounder (10 per game to KD’s 8 per game according to NBA.com), passer and defender and can drive to the rim any time he so chooses. James’ only downfall is his penchant for disappearing in the final minutes of pivotal games. If you had a chance to watch any of the NBA Finals last year, you may have seen James come up short in the closing moments of the final 4 games. This has led to constant ridicule and mocking of James’ ability to have any sort of impact on a game in the Final 2 minutes. Let’s be honest, James possesses too much talent not to be a factor in any games period! Let’s hope James has channelled all of the energy and learned from last year as he is definitely the key as to whether Miami will take the chip this year.
Although both players are shooting 50% from the field during the playoffs, Durant has shown to be the better clutch player.
Power Forwards: Serge Ibaka vs Udonis Haslem
Serge Ibaka has definitely improved his overall play especially on the defensive end as indicated by his second place finish in this year’s defensive player of the year voting. Averaging 3 blocks a game during the playoffs, Serge Ibaka is a force in the middle for any opposing players even anticipating a trip to the rim. Although most of his blocks come off the weak side from help defences, he is still a decent one on one defender and he can hit an open jumper (or several as indicated by his perfect 11-11 performance from the field in Game 4 against the Spurs in the Western conference Finals). However Ibaka is only averaging 6 rebounds a game for the playoffs according to NBA.com. This needs to improve as OKC will definitely have to dominate against Miami’s small front court line up to win this series.
Udonis Haslem is known as a good solid player and a physical warrior on the basketball court. Udonis and Dwayne Wade are the only remaining players from the Heat team that won the championship in 2006 and therefore he knows what it takes to win. He is a better spot up shooter and rebounder than Serge Ibaka and has more experience on the big stage but lacks the size and quickness to compete against Ibaka.
Both of these guys are physical on the basketball court but given the younger legs of Ibaka and the 2 inch height advantage, Udonis is essentially a small forward playing in the power forward position.
Look for this matchup to definitely be a physical one.
Centres: Kendrick Perkins vs Joel Anthony
Besides his intimidating scowl, Kendrick Perkins brings physical toughness and a defensive presence of mind to the table in this series. After his many years playing alongside the Boston ‘Big 3’, or ‘Big 4’ with the inclusion of Rajon Rondo, this has equipped Perkins with the necessary skills to be a good low post defender. Here again we have a player who has valuable championship experience and who know what it takes to win. Although he has lost 35 lbs coming into the season, unfortunately injuries have stilled managed to slow Perkins down and thus makes him a bit flat footed and sluggish around the basket.
Joel Anthony is energetic, quick jumping player who is definitely undersized for this position. His erratic shooting and lapses on defence makes him a half decent role player at best.
Anthony will have trouble boxing out the bigger and more aggressive Perkins who is use to guarding bigger and more athletic centres such as Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard. As a result Perkins shouldn’t have any trouble keeping Anthony off of the boards or denying Anthony a plethora of points in this series.
Supporting Cast: OKC vs Miami
The biggest concern for Miami regarding OKC supporting cast is the slowing down of James Harden. Here is a player that can be in the starting line-up for any team in the NBA but has embraced his role as a bench player. As the unanimous winner of the 6th man of the year award this season, James Harden has single handedly taken over a few games in the playoffs that have propelled the Thunder to be triumphant in those games. Miami is going to have its work cut out for them trying to guard Harden who will be able to slash to the basket in this series due to the absence of a low post shot blocker. Look for Harden to be the X factor in this series.
Also OKC has Nick Collison who is a decent rebounder and a terrific hustle player who doesn’t take plays off. He will not hesitate for a second to sacrifice his body by throwing it into the way of an opposing offensive player to draw a charge. Derrick Fisher brings leadership to OKC and is a proven champion and clutch shooter with the 5 championship rings he has received from his years with the Lakers. Daequan Cook is a terrific 3-pointer shooter who will spread the floor for OKC while Nazr Mohammed is another big body that OKC can put on the floor to play against Miami’s already depleted front court.
Miami’s bench is atrocious with the only decent players being the injured Chris Bosh and Shane Battier. Miami should worry as Chris Bosh is not 100% with the abdominal injury he suffered in the second round of the Eastern conference playoffs. Although this will be Bosh’s 4th game back from injury, he has managed to average 12 points and 7 rebounds (according to NBA.com) in these 3 games which may provide a bright spark to the Heat bench.
Shane Battier’s performance has been inconsistent since he was brought in as a defensive specialist to guard the opposing team’s best players. Shane’s performance against Kevin Durant will be key as he will need to bring a high calibre level of defence and dig deep into his bags of tricks to slow down Durant and other players on OKC.
While James Jones and Mike Miller were brought in to utilize their sharpshooting skills to spread the floor and punish the defence, we have rarely seen a sighting of these two during the playoffs. Norris Cole’s performance has diminished significantly from the start of the season and is strongly exhibiting signs of the rookie that he is in these playoffs.
Overall, OKC’sbench is bigger, more athletic and deeper than the bench of Miami.
Even though Miami has 2 of the top 5 players in the league in Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, they don’t have much of everything else besides an injured Chris Bosh and a somewhat reliable Shane Battier. OKC is a deeper team boasting the 6th Man of the year off the bench (James Harden) who will not hesitate to try and dismantle the Heat and put doubts into their minds. OKC will definitely use their size in the front court to dominate the Miami Heat and Russell Westbrook’s ability to get to the rim and maintain the tempo of the game will be crucial in this matchup.
Each team will also need to limit their turnovers as OKC are at their most dangerous on the fast break while Lebron and Dwayne have made teams pay with their superb transition offense and ferocious, rim rattling dunks.
However, each team will only go as far as their superstars take them, in this case Lebron James and Kevin Durant. Although James is blessed with amazing talent and is a strong and physical player, the fact remains he is yet to wash away the label of being a choker on the big stage that is the NBA Finals. OKC has arguably the best clutch player in Kevin Durant which has been proven with his game winning shots during the previous series with the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs and seems more likely to continue into the Finals.
Also the fact remains that the home team of games 3,4 & 5 in the Finals has not been able to win all three games since the Miami Heat did it in 2006. This statistic doesn’t bode well for Miami with them being the host team and we very well know that OKC is capable of winning on the road as they have done it in all of their previous series so this concept is very possible. We do however know that Miami will need to win on the road if they are to take the chip this year.
So is it going to be Durant or James who leads their team over the finish line and to the NBA championship?
Based on ability to perform in the clutch when everything is on the line, it seems as if the edge will go to Kevin Durant.
Result: OKC wins 4-2