April 7, 2012
Storm warning in NBAWhat happens when you mix Heat and Thunder? Maybe a totally electric NBA final
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
The long-term forecast calls for a mix of Heat and Thunder, a combination any meteorologist would have a difficult time trying to assess the potential carnage.
If you're a fan of the NBA, casual, peripheral, rabid, there's no better final's forecast than a matchup pitting the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, no better backdrop to forget the garbage of a lockout-shortened season, no doubts about it.
Anyone who saw Wednesday night's compelling tip in Miami couldn't help but envision these same two teams hooking up in June with all the marbles at stake, so many offensively gifted players that would make the series as epic as any in recent hoops history.
As gripping as the Lakers-Celtics renewal was in 2010, a seven-game series Boston would have won had Kendrick Perkins not torn his knee in a Game 6 loss, there were too many stretches between the two historic rivals where far too many missed shots and offensive ineptness reduced the final to the ranks of the unwatchable.
There won't be any such concerns if Miami escapes from the East and OKC emerges from the West, a scenario that is very likely given how neither team seems capable of losing a best-of-seven series in their respective conferences.
In the East, the biggest threat to the Heat remains the Bulls, who lost to Miami in last year's Eastern final when LeBron James' defence completely shut down Derrick Rose whenever crunch time arrived late in close games.
With two games left against Chicago, the Heat can put itself in a position to claim home court, a luxury that would basically assure Miami of a return to the final stage.
Miami’s win over the Thunder was its 17th straight at home, a streak broken Friday when the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Heat 97-82.
Of the team's remaining 13 games, Miami plays eight at home, the five road games highlighted by a visit to Chicago and Boston, a place that has not been kind to the Heat.
The Thunder has been a much more engaged team on the road this season when compared to Miami, its path to home court throughout the playoffs made harder by a loss to Indiana on Friday, with looming trips to L.A. to play the Lakers and Clippers.
If the East is a two-horse race between the Bulls and Heat, the West is deeper with San Antonio making yet another push as the Spurs' championship window closes.
Potential matchups with the Lakers and Grizzlies will test OKC, but the Thunder should prevail in a long series because it has too many offensive weapons.
Both Miami and OKC will defend, but it's hard to overlook the presence of four of the NBA's leading scorers, a quartet of all-stars capable of taking over any game at any moment.
James or Kevin Durant will be named league MVP, each making a case as they went toe to toe in South Beach on Wednesday.
"It was a great game," OKC head coach Scott Brooks said in the aftermath of his team's 98-93 defeat. "Both teams gave everything they had."
It's why everyone in basketball can only hope next time these two meet again is on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer, as appealing a matchup as you can find, a series too close to call, assuming Miami and OKC collide.
What was provided Wednesday was a rare look at playoff basketball being played in early April, the no-layup rule associated with the post-season in effect, hard fouls aplenty and even the occasional flagrant foul.
Big shots were matched, teams responded to runs and run-ins and stars such as James and Durant elevated their games, though clearly James upstaged Durant, who had zero assists.
"It was a physical game and I like that," Brooks added. "Neither team backed down. It is not a game I can be disappointed with. I am proud of our guys. It was a hard-fought game and I have nothing to complain about."
Added first-year Heat swingman Shane Battier: "It's a significant win because we haven't had a signature win in a while. That's as good of a win as we've had in a long time."
And so imagine how good this year's NBA final will be if the Heat and Thunder converge.