As I’ve often said, I think we too often over analyze basketball.
Every time someone loses, we desperately search for which player choked when really, 90% of the time, the team that won was simply better.
Going into this year’s NBA Finals, the conventional wisdom says to pick the Thunder. They just beat the hottest team in the NBA – and beat them soundly after dropping the first two games. The Thunder are deeper than the Heat. They have more size. They have the “best closer” on the planet right now.
And oh yeah, they are more likable.
I might just agree with every single one of those statements, but I personally believe that it’s that last statement that has lured most fans onto the OKC bandwagon.
However, if you really want to pick the winner of this series, I think there are three important questions that must be answered.
1. Which LeBron James is the aberration?
Over the last few days, I have heard different variations of the same question: “Who would you rather build your team around right now – LeBron James or Kevin Durant?”
Every time I hear that, I think the same thing…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Be fair. Put your hatred of LeBron to the side. In what possible universe is Kevin Durant the better overall player than LeBron?
Sure, Durant’s a better shooter. I might even go a step further and admit that he’s the better scorer, although nobody scores 40 as effortlessly as LeBron when he goes into scoring mode.
But LeBron CRUSHES Durant at everything else.
LeBron is a better rebounder (by a little). He’s a better passer (by far). He’s a better defender (by far).
Durant’s supporters then try and pull out the “trump card.” Durant is more clutch! And if the LeBron James from the 2011 Finals or 2010 Eastern Finals is the only LeBron you are talking about, then you are absolutely right.
But are you sure that LeBron will show up this week?
- What if the “48 Special” LeBron shows up?
- What if the guy who averaged 39-9-8 against the Magic in 2009 shows up?
- What about the guy who dropped 42-18-9 on the Pacers in Game 4?
- How about LeBron from Game 6 in Boston last week?
- What about the Eastern Conference Finals LeBron from 2011 that completely dominated the league MVP on both ends of the floor?
Of course, the current narrative regarding LeBron is that he’s “not clutch.” But you can’t deny that he’s had plenty of supremely clutch moments in his career.
I’m not here to continue the tired debate about whether LeBron is or is not “clutch.” I’m simply asking you this: Which LeBron is the aberration?
People picking the Thunder think that the five instances I just brought up were the outliers. I don’t. LeBron is clutch, and will show it in this series.
Since I believe he is clutch, that leads us to our next question…
2. Isn’t LeBron James perfectly built to defend Kevin Durant?
I have said on many occasions that I believe Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the game. I also believe that he may go on to be the greatest scorer in NBA history.
You simply don’t “stop” guys like Durant, you only contain them.
HOWEVER…if anyone on this planet can guard Durant, isn’t it LeBron? And don’t you think LeBron will spend most of the series guarding the Durantula?
LeBron’s size can really bother Durant. Durant won’t be able to get as good of position inside as he has been accustomed to so far in this year’s playoffs.
Durant is much better at scoring off the ball then LeBron is (this is what I feel truly separates them as scorers), and will probably score 8-10 points a game off back doors or fast break baskets. But one-on-one, Durant will struggle much more than normal.
Really, the matchup will come down to how many jumpers Durant knocks down. Of course, he is a great shooter and could still average 30 a game off of jump shots. But he is streaky. And if he shoots below par in 4 games, what will be the outcome?
But further than just the matchup on that end of the floor, let’s say that Durant does score 30 a game. Does that mean he has won the matchup with LeBron? If Durant averages 30, but LeBron throws up a 29-8-7 (not unbelievable), don’t the Heat still win that matchup?
This leads us to our final and most important question.
Regardless of how good you feel about Durant’s matchup … Regardless of whether or not you think LeBron can slow him down … here is the reality: the Heat are going to make someone else beat them.
3. How much do you trust Russell Westbrook and James Harden?
LeBron and Durant will get all of the headlines this week (and rightfully so), but this is the truth: the Heat are going to make Russell Westbrook and James Harden beat them.
Fortunately for the Thunder, Westbrook and Harden are great players.
Unfortunately, most of their fans don’t really trust them.
Remember, as little as three weeks ago people were unsure of whether or not Westbrook and Durant could coexist. I know many Thunder fans personally, and I can tell you for a fact that their biggest fear game in and game out is “Which RW will show up?”
Supposedly, Westbrook has figured it out recently and has “yielded” to Durant. I’m not so sure. Did you know that he has still taken more shots this postseason than Durant?
And let’s just say that Miami focuses its defense around stopping Durant. After three or four failed attempts at getting Durant the ball, how sure are you that Westbrook will stick to the game plan and feed his guy?
I’m not convinced. That’s not a good sign for OKC.
And if Russell Marbury (nickname courtesy BlackSportsOnline) is the one who shows up this series, the Thunder and their fans will be in for a long, frustrating series.
As for Harden, nobody has been better in this year’s playoffs. However, let me bring to light this hard-to-believe-yet-true stat: in the 2011-12 regular season, James Harden had exactly ZERO field goals in the last 3 minutes of games that were within 5 points.
Now, maybe this new Harden show is just a wrinkle that OKC was saving until the Playoffs. Maybe Harden just got some more confidence and was given more freedom on the offensive side of the ball.
Or maybe not.
Either way, if you are going to pick OKC, you are telling me that you have 100% confidence in Westbrook and Harden, and you fully believe that they are capable of winning this series for the Thunder.
I don’t believe so.
Heat in 6.