By JP Bogardus aka KD35Russ0

Can the Big 3 from Miami thrive in the clutch? Can the young guns from Oklahoma City win big games against experienced teams? Can the defending champs regain their form? Do the Spurs have one last run in them? Will Kobe or Derrick Rose put their respective teams on their backs? All of these questions will be answered over the next few months and will eventually result in an NBA champion. There are several ways to go about this topic. I could go round by round, team by team, telling you why I think each team will win, but I feel like that would get redundant. So instead I’m going to jump into the time machine and tell you that the Miami Heat will be getting back to the finals, they will be facing the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it will be a NBA Finals for the ages…

 

Rather than comparing the starters, I’m going to compare the crunch time fives, and consider the benches of each team those players who are not on the crunch time fives. So, here we go.

 

Russell Westbrook vs. Mario Chalmers

Most people would look at this match-up, look at the stats, and immediately assume that it is a complete mismatch. I don’t quite see it that way. Look, I love Westbrook. His explosiveness is amazing and his shooting and shot selection is much improved. Westbrook has increased his shooting percentage every single year in the league, and when he is locked in, is as good of a one on one defender as there is in the league. However, Chalmers is no chump, he’s a very solid defender in his own right and after Wade, one could argue that Chalmers thrives in the clutch better than anyone else on this Miami team. Westbrook wins the matchup, but Chalmers will certainly hold his own.

Advantage: Westbrook

 

James Harden vs. Dwyane Wade

Kind of the opposite of our first match-up, the casual fan would probably assume that Wade wins this match-up going away, but again I see it as being much closer than that. Let’s start with this thought; Wade notoriously takes a lot of hits throughout the year, resulting in plenty of nagging injuries that in the condensed season never get time to heal. I’m not so sure Wade will be anywhere near close to full strength at this point in the season. Even without this thought though, Wade and Harden’s numbers are really quite similar. Wade averages more points(23.1 to 16.5) and assists(4.9 to 3.6), but they both shoot similar percentages from the field (Wade 50% to Harden 48%) and Harden is the significantly better 3 point shooter, both this year (Harden 36% to Wade 13%) and in their careers (Harden 36% to Wade 29%). Wade is the superior defender, but Miami’s defensive weakness as a team is giving up three pointers, which Harden could easily exploit. A healthy Wade wins the match-up, but not by much.

Advantage: Healthy Wade

 

Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James

We could get into the amazing numbers here, the great MVP race that is going on, the All Star game battle that we just witnessed, but let’s just say this…these are the two best players in the game, but one is great in the clutch and one passed to Udonis Haslem for a buzzer beater earlier this week.

Slight Advantage: Durant

 

Thabo Sefolosha vs. Chris Bosh

These two probably won’t ever be guarding each other, but I wanted to match Durant against James so I moved Thabo to this spot. Actually, I expect to see the Thunder go small in crunch time, with Thabo guarding James and Durant checking Bosh. Bosh is clearly the superior player in this particular match-up with Sefolosha, but Sefolosha will do just fine against James. He is a defensive stopper who has learnt to hit the corner three (again, this is a weakness of the Heat defense). Bosh doesn’t play down low, and often doesn’t demand the ball. Durant will be just fine guarding him, and in my opinion will be saving quite a bit of energy doing so. On the other side of the ball, Bosh definitely can’t defend Durant, and will have some trouble running around with Thabo. So, in a vacuum Bosh wins this match-up by a long shot, but in the concept of team, this is actually quite even.

Slight Advantage: Bosh

 

Serge Ibaka vs. Joel Anthony

Two very good help defender shot blockers, these guys are going to be responsible for protecting the rim. The big difference I see is that Anthony has no offensive game and will allow Ibaka to help off of him, while Ibaka can extend Anthony out away from the basket with his becoming reliable 18 foot jumper. According to 82games.com, Ibaka shoots his jumper at about a 40% clip over the past two seasons, pretty good for a big man[1]. With Anthony having to follow Ibaka away from the basket, the lane could be more open for Westbrook, Durant, and Harden to drive and get to the free throw line where they are one of the best trios in the league.

Advantage: Serge Ibaka

 

OKC bench vs. Miami bench

The Miami bench was their big weakness last season. That is not true anymore. Led by veterans Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem, this bench is much improved. Battier is a clutch player, and will be used from time to time on Durant to provide some annoyingly physical defense. Norris Cole also provides some punch off of the bench for Miami, along with Mike Miller who leads the NBA in three point shooting percentage at 51.7%. The Thunder bench has struggled with the loss of backup point guard Eric Maynor to an ACL injury. However, they still have some high quality players outside of their crunch time five. Kendrick Perkins is one of the league’s premier post defenders and has rebounded much better as of late. Daequan Cook brings a career 37% mark from the three point line to the table. Nick Collison brings more intangibles and winning attitude to the court than anyone on this list. I believe that the Miami bench is more talented, but Oklahoma City’s group fits their roles a little better.

Slight Advantage: Miami

 

Thus far the final tally is slightly in the favor of Oklahoma City. In the end, we all know that this series comes down to who can make shots in the clutch. I’m not going to say that Miami can’t do it. I’m not going to say that LeBron can’t step up. What I’m saying is I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve seen Durant do it, and do it a lot lately. In the condensed season where anything can happen, I’ll take the young legs in Oklahoma City to win it all. I think they have potentially the easier road to the championship and will be the fresher team once they get there. I think that OKC will have home court throughout and that will be the ultimate difference, as the great crowd in OKC pushes the Thunder to a game 7 victory. You heard it here first:…OKC over Miami in 7.

 

[1] For reference, Kevin Love and Lamarcus Aldridge, two shooting power forwards shot 44 and 45 percent respectively last season on their jump shots.