5. SERGE IBAKA vs. CHRIS BOSH
I-blaka catches nearly anything that comes his way near the hoop, while Bosh has caught criticism since the day he put on a Heat jersey with his name in tackle twill lettering. This is the chance both have to show who’s the ultimate frontcourt player in this series, with specific challenges for each. Ibaka (10.7 points, 5.7 boards and 3.3 blocks per game) will have to stay alert to Bosh’s sudden perimeter confidence while still keeping a presence in the key. The Western Conference posts he’s faced so far have solely been key dwellers. Bosh has to challenge Ibaka at the rim to keep him honest, while not letting him — playing against the worst frontline of any playoff series this year — develop into a 20 and 10 guy overnight. If Bosh can drill a couple timely threes again, it will only help.
4. DWYANE WADE vs. RUSSELL WESTBROOK.
There is so much to see of a young Wade in Westbrook as the flashy guard who was more comfortable blowing past you for a dunk then dropping the dime. The case that they haven’t played well, or eerily similar, against one another can’t be made. In their eight tilts, (a 4-4 split) Wade is averaging 26.3 points, 5.0 assists and 4.8 boards per game. Westbrook line is 19.4 points, 5.8 assists and 4.0 boards. They’re both averaging around four turnovers per game, too, and are close in steals, too, with each around 2.0 per. Mostly, though, it’s this: I can think of no other guards in this league who like to be upstaged less. Wade has had the “go off” button activated since 2006, but we found Westbrook’s in the 2011 Playoffs when his supposed rift with Durant was media fodder. That was borne out of the notion Westbrook isn’t Oklahoma City’s best player, a hatred sometimes shared by Wade in Miami. This is the best stage possible to prove their point.
3. HOW MUCH BETTER THIS SERIES WOULD BE IF THE THUNDER WERE STILL THE SUPERSONICS.
This is nothing against Oklahoma City fans, who are some of the very best in the league. This is everything against the Thunder’s management, led by Clay Bennett.
2. THE CHANCE WE CAN TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
LeBron James brought this mess on himself when, moments after entering an arena under a banner of piped-in flames with new teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, announced the Heat would win umpteen titles. I understand that his bravado is still vilified, but I want to ask, why still? Jeff Van Gundy said it the very best on Saturday when he proclaimed a “statute of limitations on bad decisions” toward James’ “Decision.” Was it such bad television that the aforementioned Bayless would have cringed? Yes. Is it time to make this a pure basketball conversation instead of one of two-year-old interviews? Absolutely. Two years later, is James’ playoff run still one of the most captivating (first in points, second in rebounds, third in assists overall) I’ve ever watched? Unquestionably.
1. LEBRON JAMES vs. KEVIN DURANT
I was going to say Derek Fisher vs. Mike Miller but … who am I kidding. When everyone salivates over a matchup like this in the regular season, you can be sure the NBA Finals showdown between James (30.8 points per game, and that only tells part of the story) and Durant (27.8 points per) is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The pair won’t check each other all the time with Miami still lacking in size in the frontcourt, thus requiring James to help there — and also because Erik Spoelstra won’t want James sapped on offense from chasing Durant on defense.
Because each guy is so important to his respective team and gets the bulk of the minutes, judging them by “when XXX is on/off the court” stats is nearly irrelevant. LeBron has been on the bench 7 of the 85 minutes he’s played against Durant. Durant, meanwhile, has played 78 of 81 minutes against James. Almost a true face-off, in other words. I can’t wait.
What do you think?
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