Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, June 11, 2012 at 9:36 PM
It’s finally here! The Oklahoma City Thunder had to wait a few extra days to find out for sure they’d be playing the Miami Heat. But, now, it’s locked into place. Two budding powers with superstars who may be going head-to-head with championships on the line for the next several years. Two young head coaches who could be doing the same even if payroll changes the rosters. Two owners America loves to hate and may even hate more when this series is over.
As promised we’re here to crunch the numbers today for the Thunder/Heat championship showdown in the NBA Finals. If you’ve been following along with us through the full postseason, you basically know what we think about these teams. But, it’s good to get the numbers back in play so everyone can sit down and think through the handicapping process. What are the real strengths and weaknesses of these teams. The Durant vs. LeBron cancels out, will “defense and rebound wins championship” once again become the theme that rules the day? Let’s jump right in and see what the numbers say…
MIAMI VS. OKLAHOMA CITY
Game One: 9 p.m. ET on ABC
Series Price: Oklahoma City -170
Game One Line: Oklahoma City by 5, total of 195.5
We start with the market assessment. It’s a stark contrast for what you normally see when the Miami Heat are involved. They’re the underdogs! The team that was supposed to win three, four, five, or even six championships with their current collection of talent isn’t even favored to beat a bunch of young upstarts! How did that happen?
The market has eyeballs…that’s what happened. Oklahoma City showed off a complete game in dismissing #1 seed San Antonio in six games in the Western Conference finals. They passed the ball around on offense rather than settling for guarded jumpers in isolation. They attacked the basket when there were openings…and they created a lot of openings. Their defense was better than it seemed once you adjust for the caliber of offense they were facing. Oklahoma City played like champions. Young champions. Hungry superstars who are ready to make a statement.
Miami? It’s true that Chris Bosh was out…but they still didn’t play at a level nearly approaching what OKC did. They had to rally from behind against Indiana and Boston, teams they were expected to beat handily even without Bosh. They would mix stretches of great defense with stretches of backing off and letting people score. They were at their best when playing slow (check the tempo numbers), which means they might be in danger of getting run off the floor by the young, athletic Thunder.
Most sportsbooks opened with an early price of Oklahoma City -125 to -140. Professional wagerers bet the Thunder up to -170. Normally, we’d give a lot of respect to a move of that size. But, the same thing happened in support of San Antonio in the Western Finals! Sharps got hurt there, but made up for their series losses with some game-by-game hedging.
We know the market thinks OKC is the better team. What about our indicator stats from the regular season? If you’re new to the website, we’ve been focusing on regular season rankings in offensive efficiency (scoring adjusted for tempo), defensive efficiency (points allowed adjusted for tempo), and rebound rate (percentage of available rebounds grabbed).
Miami (6 on offense, 4 on defense, 6 in rebound rate)
Oklahoma City (2 on offense, 9 on defense, 5 in rebound rate)
At first glance, these look pretty even. Oklahoma City has the better offense. Miami has the better defense. Both teams know how to rebound well by league standards. So, why isn’t the series pick-em in Las Vegas?
The market knows you have to make adjustments for strength of schedule. Miami is in the much easier Eastern Conference, and their stats are slightly inflated as a result. Oklahoma City plays in the much tougher Western Conference, and is better than those numbers look even though they’re pretty impressive at first glance. Once you make the adjustments:
*Oklahoma City is CLEARLY better on offense
*The defenses are about even
*Oklahoma City is CLEARLY better in rebounding
The media believes that Miami is a superpower, and that any loss reflects poorly on the character of LeBron James. Unfortunately, the media is too dumb to adjust for schedule strength (something we’ve been exposing to you for YEARS in ALL SPORTS!). Miami’s not as good as the media thinks, and it’s not necessarily LeBron’s fault if they don’t win. This isn’t a very deep team…and that would be more exposed if Miami played in the West instead of the East.
Are the stats saying this series is already over? Are OKC’s edges too big to be overcome? We haven’t even talked about the fatigue advantage the Thunder might enjoy since Miami just went seven games with Boston while the Thunder were resting up and preparing.
Well, handicapping is never that simple. There are definitely reasons Oklahoma City could have trouble in this matchup, and fail to play to expectations:
*OKC is young…and young teams often freeze like deer in the headlights (particularly when favored for the first time in a big situation).
*OKC’s talent tries to force things that aren’t there when they get panicky. We saw that vs. Dallas last year when they lost in the Western Finals. If OKC gets panicky here, the same thing could easily happen.
*OKC has never been in this rarefied air as a group at any level. Kevin Durant didn’t even reach the Final Four in his one year of college ball. It’s common in the world of sports for a team to get there and lose before getting there and winning. Miami got there and lost last year. Maybe this is when they use an experience advantage to grab the trophy.
JIM HURLEY and his full TEAM HANDICAPPING juggernaut have been hard at work since about midnight this past Saturday gearing up for the finals.
*Our ON-SITE SCOUTS AND SOURCES have been monitoring the fatigue situation for Miami, and the overconfidence factor for rested Oklahoma City.
*Our STAT HANDICAPPERS have been crunching all the numbers from regular season meetings and other games vs. playoff teams to get a complete handle on the real expectations for this matchup.
*Our TREND HISTORIANS have been looking at 30-plus years of Championship history to get a sense of which team elements matter most in the Finals, and how much a fatigue edge impacts the first two games.
*Our COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS have been running simulations around the clock to account for every possibility. We don’t want to go into too many details because we have to protect our information. But, the “true” health of Chris Bosh is going to play a bigger role in this series than some our thinking. We’ll leave it at that…and then not say what we know about his “true” health!
*Our WISE GUY CONNECTIONS in Las Vegas and offshore have given us the strike point on the series and Game One line that would bring Miami money into the equation. They’re also alerting us to projected moves on Over/Unders.
The man in the middle of the INFORMATION HURRICANE will get you the best Vegas betting option in every game. Don’t you dare make a move until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!
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Back with you tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK to talk about a key development in Major League Baseball that will help you through the current Interleague challenge. Make sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s really happening in the world of sports. And never forget that BIG, JUICY WINNERS are always just a few clicks away from JIM HURLEY!