1. Which aspect of the game will decide this series?
Aside from the matchups of LeBron-Durant, Wade-Westbrook etc., I think that the team that wins the rebounding battle and limits their turnovers will win the series. The Thunder have an opportunity with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to be a force on the offensive glass. They need to take advantage of this when they can because both teams will be playing a lot of small lineups too. The Thunder also have a bad habit of turning the ball over a lot at times. The Heat will quickly turn turnovers into points on the other end which will really put OKC at a disadvantage. If the Thunder can get a lot of offensive rebounds and second chance points and take care of the ball, they will be in great position to win this series.
2. Who should Serge Ibaka guard for the majority of the Finals?
Ibaka should guard Chris Bosh most of the time. When the Heat go small and play Bosh at the five, OKC should use Ibaka at the five as well. If OKC has Perkins and Ibaka on the floor while the Heat are going small, I’d want Ibaka on someone like Shane Battier. The Thunder are going to have to sacrifice something when Bosh is out there, either pulling Ibaka away from the paint to stick with a spotting up Bosh or living with the poor pick-and-roll defense of Perkins. At the end of the day, Bosh can be an X-factor for the Heat and Ibaka is much stronger and should be able to make scoring very difficult for him and that would be the most impactful way to utilize Ibaka on defense.
3. What does OKC need from Russell Westbrook to beat Miami?
I think they need a lot more from him than he gave in the San Antonio series. Westbrook needs to become that 23-25 points per night guy for OKC in this series with Miami mainly because I think it will be hard for Durant to be as efficient as he has been with LeBron guarding him. I’d love to see Westbrook aggressively looking for his pull-up jump shot all the time and less of him attacking the rim, unless it is to pass. If Westbrook can be a dominant scorer again, it will cause Miami to take Mario Chalmers off him and have to use Wade on him instead. If Wade and LeBron both have to work very hard on defense guarding Westbrook and Durant, I think that will be a very good sign for the Thunder.
4. Where does the Thunder have an advantage over the Heat?
Overall, I think the Thunder are deeper than Miami, especially inside. The Thunder should be able to dominate the glass, getting a lot of offensive rebounds and allowing few. I feel like Miami doesn’t have much rim protection either and the Thunder’s ability to score in isolation situations and at the rim will be a real weapon for them. James Harden is probably the biggest advantage in this regard. If he can find some rhythm in the pick-and-roll then his assault on the rim will make it near impossible for Miami to win. Durant-Westbrook vs. LeBron-Wade is almost a wash and maybe slightly in favor of the Heat so the Thunder’s superior role players will be crucial for them to win the series.
5. Who wins the championship?
I think the Thunder win in seven games. Having home court is huge for them and it is really hard to even imagine them losing a game at home. I think the Thunder will protect home court in the first two then Miami will come back to tie the series at 2-2. Then I think the road teams win Games 5 and 6 with the Thunder winning a Game 7 at home. LeBron will have a huge series with huge numbers but I think Durant makes him work harder than he has so far for those numbers. The Heat have had an easy road to the Finals even though they didn’t make it seem easy. The Thunder were tested and passed with flying colors. I don’t think that ends in the Finals especially since they have home court advantage.
* Courtesy of OKC Thunder Editor, Andrew Kennedy – thunderousintentions.com)