June 11, 2012
NBA Finals Predictions
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Why the Heat will win in six games: As the series goes along the Heat are going to be better suited to the physical style of play, and they'll be more effective in the half-court. Coaches always talk about wanting their players to be the instigators, and the Heat are more likely to feel comfortable establishing the physical style of play and then executing within it. They weren't up to that kind of challenge last year, but now it defines them as a team.
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Why the Thunder will win in seven: The numbers shout for an easier Thunder win, especially given the sloppiness Miami showed against a Boston team that really shouldn't have been able to take the Heat the distance in the Eastern Conference finals. Concerns about LeBron James' fatigue are also legitimate; the Mavericks wore him down last season in the Finals, and the journey here has been tougher on him this time around. But the Heat have the league's greatest player on a roll, an All-Star power forward in Chris Bosh looking primed for more minutes and a defense that can do things Oklahoma City hasn't seen yet. The Thunder defense hasn't exactly looked like the 2008 Celtics' in the postseason and has been breakable in the past. Still, that defense did enough to win against the San Antonio scoring powerhouse, and we haven't seen any defense come close to even frustrating Oklahoma City. Given that reality, plus home-court advantage and the lower minutes load the Thunder stars have carried, I'll take Oklahoma City in an epic seven-gamer.
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Why the Heat will win in six: Before the playoffs, I picked the Thunder to win it all. A few days ago, I would have picked them without thinking twice. Every ounce of rationale favors them. They have more scorers, a better bench, a stronger front line, a louder home court, and they've been tested by tougher opponents throughout the playoffs. But when LeBron James is right, he can wipe out a lot of mismatches, and he has been right all season. Kevin Durant is making his first trip to the Finals and he will win soon enough. James is making his third and he has waited long enough. A year ago, I didn't think Dallas could win the championship, but it was Dirk Nowitzki's time and he made the unlikely possible. It's LeBron's time.
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Why the Thunder will win in six: The Thunder are too young, too big, too skilled and too athletic. Miami's Big Three won't go down easy, and I see a 40-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound game in LeBron James' near future. But the Thunder are really good. What's more, they know it. This team believes it belongs on this stage and will be well-rested when a battle-scarred Miami team comes to town on Tuesday night.
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Why the Thunder will win in seven: I fully expect the stars on both sides to shine, but the Thunder's supporting cast will ultimately tip the scales. Had these Thunder been here before, they could take it in six games with that mixture of talent and experience. As it is, they'll need all seven games before capitalizing on their home-court advantage at the end.
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Why the Thunder will win in six: LeBron James is a potent trump card for Miami. But the Heat have not matched up against a player as talented and complete as Kevin Durant in this postseason, and his supporting cast has more skill and depth than the rest of Miami's roster. Miami will have to expose a relative weakness in the Thunder's game, but where is it? Before the playoffs, one could criticize Oklahoma City for its emphasis on isolation plays and turnover frequency, along with its lack of interior scoring and inconsistent defense, especially against the pick-and-roll. Those flaws have been sealed so far as the Thunder dismantled three teams responsible for 10 of the last 13 championships -- with a lineup that often has four players age 23 or younger. If the Heat lose, it won't be James' fault. He'll simply have been beaten by the better team.

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