Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 NBA Finals preview + prediction

By Kshell

The dream NBA Finals match up that every casual basketball fan has wanted has finally arrived with three-time MVP Lebron James and the Miami Heat taking on the three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant. Both players will be the face of team USA this summer in London. Both of are the best players in the world who happen to play the same position. Both guys are also looking for their first championship ring in their young careers. Both guys have also left a city bitter with James having the "decision" which still has Cleveland fans pissed off. While Durant has done nothing wrong the man who signs his checks moved the Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City and us Seattle fans are still hurt about losing our team along with Durant. In this post I'll break down my three keys to the series while reflecting back on the Sonics situation. Then at the end I'll offer up prediction on the series as the Oklahoma City Thunder are the heavy favorites this series after defeating the San Antonio Spurs four straight games while the Heat struggled to beat an aging Boston Celtics team in seven games.

1. Who will emerge from this Finals as the best player in the NBA?

What makes this NBA Finals so unique unlike previous other finals is that so much is riding on the superstars of each team. Fair or not the winner of this series will see their star emerge as the best player in the NBA. In most sports the role players step up and win MVP's sometimes in championship series but in the NBA the MVP is almost always the best player on their own team. This postseason both players are playing surpurb basketball. For the Heat Lebron James is averaging 30.8 PPG, 9.6 RPG and 5.1 APG. He is averaging 42:22 minutes a game in 18 games while recording 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. He is making 1.1 three pointers a game and shooting 50.8% from the field. He is also getting to the foul line averaging 10.4 free throws a game. In the Eastern Conference Finals win over the Celtics James was terrific averaging 33.6 PPG, 11.0 RPG and 3.9 APG. James though has struggled in 10 career Finals games averaging only 19.6 PPG and has yet to score more than 25 points.

His counterpart will be Kevin Durant who will be playing in his very first of probably many NBA Finals. Durant these playoffs is also playing terrific averaging 27.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG and 4.2 APG. In 15 games he is averaging 41:33 minutes a game while recording 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. He is making 1.9 three pointers a game while shooting 50.5% from the field, 36.4% on three pointers and 87.0% on 8.2 free throw attempts. Durant has defeated the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and then the hottest team in the NBA the San Antonio Spurs. All three teams have represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals the last 13 seasons including 10 championships. I have a feeling the Durant-Lebron rivalry is about to reach Bird-Magic territory as this won't be the only time these two will square off in the NBA Finals.

Whoever wins this matchup will most likely be hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy. I can't see a scenario where either player has even an average series by their own high standards and their team prevailing. One of these two is about to be the face of the NBA, team USA basketball and win their first ever championship and that is all in their hands.

2. Nobody likes a third wheel except for both these teams:

In this series Kevin Durant-Lebron James battle will grab the first, second and third headlines. The next headlines will be the battle between Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook who will also be a fun matchup as both are combo guards. If those matchups cancel each other out as they'll be going up against each other offensively and defensively then this series could be decided by the "third wheel's" on each team. For the Zombies Sonics that is sixth man of the year James Harden and for the Heat that is six-time all-star Chris Bosh who is coming off injury. Currently Bosh like Harden is coming off the bench and I actually like that move as he provides instant offense off the bench which teams have used to win a title recently with Jason Terry, Lamar Odom, and Manu Giniboli.

The man with the incredible beard James Harden has been great all year and especially in these playoffs with already two big moments(both of which were on the road against Dallas in game four and San Antonio in game five). Harden these playoffs is averaging 17.6 PPG, 5.2RPG, 3.3 APG and 1.7 steals per game in 31:04 minutes while coming off the bench. Harden is shooting 45.2% from the field, making 1.7 three pointers a game on 44.6% shooting and 87.3% of his free throws on 6.8 attempts. He is playing incredible this postseason as he has the third highest PER rating behind on James and Durant.

Meanwhile Bosh who got hurt during game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals has finally returned while coming off the bench. In this postseason Bosh has played in only nine games making six starts. He is averaging 13.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG in 28:28 minutes per game. He is shooting 52.3% from the field and making 80.0% of his free throws on 3.9 attempts. He has also made 0.6 three pointers a game on 62.5% shooting. In game seven he was a huge spark for the Heat making a career high three three pointers as he scored 19 points while pulling down eight rebounds as he looked healthy.

Harden will be guarded in crunch time by Shane Battier while Bosh will be guarded by Serge Ibaka who is better at blocking shots not necessarily playing on the perimeter. If either guy can go off and help ease the load of their two stars this could be what is needed to shift this series. Both guys are very capable of erupting for 30 plus at home or on the road.

3. Like Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg the other guys can save the day:

This series will be defined by Lebron vs Duant, Westbrook vs Wade and the two major 6th men stars. What could swing a game or two in this series is the other guys headlined by the Zombie Sonics Serge Ibaka. The Miami Heat trio of Lebron-Wade-Bosh scored the final 31 points of their game seven win over Boston. In these playoffs the Heat big three is averaging 67.4 PPG, 10.0 APG and 21.5 RPG. They are also getting 4.0 steals and 3.0 blocks per game while hitting 2.1 three pointers a game. The "other guys" on the Heat are averaging 28.7 PPG, 7.3 APG and 19.0 RPG. They are also getting 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game while drilling 4.3 three pointers a game.

The Oklahoma City trio of Durant-Westbrook-Harden is averaging 67.1 PPG, 13.1 APG and 18.2 RPG. They are also getting 4.9 steals and 1.8 blocks per game while hitting 4.6 three pointers. The "other guys" on the Zombie Sonics are averaging 35.2 PPG, 5.6 APG, and 22.1 RPG. They are also getting 4.2 steals and 5.7 blocks per game while hitting 2.3 three pointers a game. As you can see the Zombies "other guys" are more explosive than the Heat. The Zombies feature Serge Ibaka who these playoffs is averaging 10.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 3.3 blocks per game.

For the Heat their main "other guy" is Mario Chalmers who is averaging 11.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.9 APG while making 1.4 three pointers a game. The Heat don't have a deep roster there is a reason why head coach Erik Spoelstra started three different guys at center in the Celtics series alone and basically only played the big three along with Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Chalmers. The Zombies though have the edge in talent and championship experience with Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher who have combined played in nine NBA Finals while winning six NBA championships.

The national media has it all wrong and that's a damn shame!

I'm already getting annoyed with how Lebron James and the Miami Heat are the "villains" because he chose to leave his hometown team for less money to pursue a championship(already in two seasons been to more NBA finals than in seven seasons in Cleveland) while most on ESPN are covenietly ignoring how Oklahoma City became Oklahoma City. The Thunder were flat out stolen from the Sonics as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Collison were all drafted by Seatle. To pretend they are the heartfelt good guys is a slap in the face to all those in Seattle who grew up as Sonics fans.

I understand the national media doesn't want to hate on Oklahoma City or be disrespectful towards them as this is their moment. Just don't pretend they are the good guys either while Miami is the villains because that is simply not the case. We have suffered a lot in recent years with the Seahawks not having a winning season since 2007, the Mariners lost 95+ games three of the last four seasons while finishing in last place six of the last eight seasons. For our college fans the Washington Huskies going 0-12 in the Tyrone Willingham era and for the Washington State Cougars fans going 9-40 the last four seasons in the Paul Wulff era. The Sonics with Kevin Durant was supposed to be our reward and we didn't even get that. Hopefully the Sonics return(they'll be here sooner than people think you watch) I hope we are awarded a talent like Durant as this city is so overdue. At least Cleveland got the experiene of Lebron James for seven years. We got to experience Durant for one season in a lameduck year that was full on rebuild mode. Seattle fans got robbed and the national media continues to piss down our back and tell us it's raining isn't helping either.

Prediction: Heat in six games

As if I was going to take Oklahoma City in this series. In reality I'm making this prediction for basketball related reasons and I'm even wagering money on the Heat to win. I can't believe a team that features Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is being underestiminated but they are. The Heat I feel are more battle tested than the Thunder after playing in the NBA Finals just last year plus are always under the media spotlight so this is nothing new to them. While the young Thunder are on center stage for the first time. Durant especially has received a free pass from the media his entire career if he starts to slump and James is going off that won't happen this series. Westbrook has already received some backlash last year but it won't be like it is now if he struggles in the Finals. I do think experience plays a role as well as the losing team from the previous year in the NBA finals who happens to reach the finals the next year has won the championship four out of seven times since 1980. Two of those champions the 1988 Detroit Pistons and 2009 Los Angeles Lakers would actually go on to win the next two titles. The teams that lost were the 1984 Lakers who would win the title following season, 1998 Utah Jazz who lost to the Michael Jordan dynasty back to back and the 2003 New Jersey Nets who came from the weakest east ever.

Now since 1980 when teams with Finals experience went up against teams without it(basically the core players) the team with experience has won 10 of the 14 matchups. The four cases where no experience prevailed was the 1980 Los Angeles Lakers who would go on to win five NBA titles, 1991 Chicago Bulls who would go on to win six NBA titles, 2004 Detroit Pistons who would reach NBA Finals following season and 2008 Boston Celtics who were all veteran future hall of famers.  I think both these teams are going to be living in the NBA finals for the rest of this decade as Durant and James are in their prime years.

Besides experience and being battle tested the main reason I'm taking the Heat is I feel like Lebron James is playing the best ball of his career. I also think Lebron has matured and is just focused on winning a title. Last year he worried too much about his critics and was tweeting about his "haters". While this year he seems at peace with himself and that hate towards him isn't as strong as it once was. He is playing like Karl Malone if Malone was able to bring the ball up court and pass. James is playing at a super natural level and defensively he is guarding Rajon Rondo one possession while guarding Kevin Garnett the next. I think he is going to give Durant some problems in those crunch moments plus Wade brings his "A" game in the NBA Finals as Wade in 12 career games has averaged 30.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 4.5 APG. Last year in the Finals loss Wade averaged 26.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 5.2 APG as he was having another spectacular finals. In 2006 Wade won the Finals MVP averaging 34.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 3.8 APG. For the Heat to win Flash will need to go off once again.

This series is what every fan who doesn't live in Cleveland or Seattle can hope for. We have six stars including four guys who will be on the U.S. Olympic team and a fifth in Bosh depending on his health. All of these guys are in their primes and in the case of both teams best two players play the same position. Westbrook will be going up against Wade in the fourth quarter and more importantly Durant will be squaring off against Lebron in the fourth quarter. America better get used to this matchup as I think this will be the new Magic-Bird of the 1980's which saw one of those two play in nine of the 10 NBA finals in the 1980's winning eight championships. They went up against each other three times as well with Bird winning the first matchup while Magic won the last two. I'm looking forward to this Finals and I truly believe this is the Finals where Lebron silences his critics for good.


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