Miami is here for two reasons: Chris Bosh's return and LeBron James' renewed openness to failure.
Both recovered in different ways. Bosh rested and conditioned himself during his injury layoff where he's now feeling more springy than the lockout-beaten players he shares the court with. James breathed in the quietness of playing for himself, accepting who he needs to be on the Miami Heat.
We know the Thunder. They pressure teams by having the unprecedented offensive trio of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant bleed matchup advantages. Their defensive malleability forced the Spurs to post up Tim Duncan, which is no longer a strength. It forced the Lakers to be more Kobe Bryant-centric than ever, effectively shutting down Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Even with the hyper Westbrook and the youthful Serge Ibaka, OKC is more of a constant than Miami has been over the past two years. Bosh's energy status and James' focus are the two biggest variables heading into the NBA Finals.
The Heat may be the only team capable of matching up with OKC's offensive talent. James, arguably the league's best perimeter defender, can match up with Durant, while Dwyane Wade
and Mario Chalmers
have the size and length to defend Westbrook and Harden. They also have Bosh's strong pick-n-roll defense behind them. When Harden makes those long strides to the rim, he'll have a much harder time gliding by Bosh as opposed to the relatively slower-footed Gasol and Duncan.
Still, OKC's firepower comes from all angles. When their trio diverts defensive attention away from role players like Ibaka, Derek Fisher
, and Thabo Sefolosha
, those guys hit shots. Fisher and Sefolosha are shooting 38.2 percent and 36.8 percent from 3, respectively, and Ibaka is shooting 55.6 percent from the field while shooting many assisted mid-range jump shots.
Miami's offense vs. OKC's defense will decide this series. When it becomes Ibaka/Durant/Harden/Sefolosha/Westbrook vs. Bosh/James/Battier/Wade/Chalmers, Bosh needs to score efficiently from 18 feet. If he does, James will have room to maneuver with or without the ball, leading to ball movement and swing passes. A stagnant Miami offense will get swallowed up by OKC's length and team speed.
Bosh's play and James' focus will determine who wins that offense/defense interaction. Based on Bosh's 19 points on stellar jump shooting in game 7 against Boston, it appears he is ready for the challenge.
That leaves us with James. If James plays aggressive basketball- without fury, fear, angst, worry, or the pursuit of always making the "right" play- and allows himself the possibility of failure, the Miami Heat are the favorites. He played conservatively in last year's Finals which limited the effects- positive and negative- he could have on his team. But that isn't what the Miami Heat need.
Pick: Heat in 6