Over the course of the series, the admirable depth and young legs of the Thunder will be pivotal. Miami’s starters will be increasingly worn out as things progress.
That would have been the case even if Bosh and Wade were themselves and it is especially true now, particularly Wade looking shaky.
2. KEEP IT IN THE HALFCOURT
Sounds crazy right, but hear us out. While the Thunder is a young group that punishes opponents with its speed and athleticism in the open court, Miami isn’t the type of team one wants to play that game with.
James, Wade and Bosh all excel at running the floor but struggle to shoot from outside (granted Bosh suddenly became Ray Allen in Game 7 but that won’t continue).
OKC has been much better with the ball in the postseason, but led the NBA in turnovers per game (16.1) during the regular season.
Miami likes nothing better than creating offence off of the miscues of opponents.
James and Wade are demons in the passing lanes and dare players to try to convert seemingly open layups against them.
If the Thunder instead opts to slow things down, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook can all break down the Heat 1-on-1.
3. WIN THE FOUL WAR
Both these teams get a ton of easy points. Durant shot the most free throws in the league (431 in the regular season), James was second (387), Westbrook fifth (340), Harden eighth (312).
James puts extreme pressure on defenders because he is either too big or too fast (or both) for whoever is guarding him. Durant and Thabo Sefolosha are far too slight to slow him down so it could be James who gets to the line more than anybody in this series.
Thunder big men Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka tend to foul a lot. OKC can survive limited courtime by Perkins since Miami likely will go small for the bulk of the action, but the team needs Ibaka, the NBA’s blocked shot leader, to stay out there.
Without Ibaka, James, Wade and Bosh will be able to attack the rim and go inside at will.
Even at 75%, Wade and Bosh are better than almost anybody in the NBA at getting to the line.
Miami, given its aforementioned lack of depth, badly needs to avoid fouling as well. As the stats indicate, that won’t be an easy task.
4. RIDE THE CROWD
There is no place in the NBA like the madhouse inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Thunder fans don’t get caught up in any of the distractions found in most other arenas, they are all about supporting their team and enjoying the game.
That’s a little bit different than Miami’s American Airlines Arena, where late-arriving spectators usually sit on their hands – if they show up at all.
The energy the Oklahomans provide is palpable and it is part of what powers the Thunder.
Homecourt advantage is often overplayed in sports, but it is a reality in this case.
San Antonio had all kinds of trouble avoiding turnovers and holding onto leads on the road and the story was the same for the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.
Those teams have won four of the past five NBA titles and know a thing or two about winning away from home.
Yet Oklahoma City remains unbeaten at home in these playoffs.
For Miami to have a chance, it will have to follow the lead of the 2010-11 Mavericks who won twice in OKC on the way to a date with the Heat in the finals.
5. RIDE WESTBROOK
If Durant vs. James and Harden vs. Wade is a saw-off, there is one matchup where the Thunder has a massive advantage:
Oklahoma City has Westbrook, Miami has nothing close.
That could well be the difference when this series is over. Who on Miami is going to contain Westbrook, who handles the ball more than anybody in the league not named Kobe Bryant? Mario Chalmers? Not happening. Norris Cole? He’s barely getting on the court. Wade? Not the way he’s feeling and probably not even if he was 100%.
The carnage could be epic. Not only is Westbrook among the fastest players in the league, but he’s also one of the most devastating mid-range attackers on the planet.
That means if Heat defenders keep their distance from him fearing his explosive drives to the rim, he’ll hit jumpers all day and if they crowd him he’ll blow right by them and score or draw fouls.
Miami’s only play might be to force Westbrook to let Harden or Durant run the show.
Harden’s the sixth-man-of-the-year, Durant’s won the scoring title the past three years, so we’ll see how that works out.
Miami’s going to have to pick its poison and if it lets Westbrook run wild, the series could be over quickly.