Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, June 11, 2012 at 10:08 AM
Okay, so we've all known for weeks now - well, since the defending champion Dallas Mavericks were eliminated way back on May 5th - that there would be a new champ crowned in this lockout-marred 2011-12 National Basketball Association season.
Even novice hoop fans at the start of the year seemed to think a Miami Heat versus Oklahoma City Thunder match-up made lots of sense - but who knew that these teams would land in this NBA Finals after facing near death-defying odds in their respective Eastern and Western Conference Finals?
No reason to rehash recent history here but Miami did win a have-to-have-it Game 6 in Boston last Thursday night before snagging Game 7 at home this past weekend while consider Okie City was down two games-to-none against the NBA's best team - remember the San Antonio Spurs? - and OKC didn't lose again after that Game 2 defeat in the Alamo City.
The superstars are all aligned here - how many times already have you heard the TV talking heads of ESPN claim that this series brings together the two greatest players on this planet in Miami's LeBron James and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (hope Los Angeles Lakers megastar Kobe Bryant isn't insulted!) - and now that Miami F Chris Bosh is back (and in a big way) the knee-jerk reaction here is to believe this series could/should go six or maybe even seven games.
For your information, the up-to-the-moment betting line on the series has Oklahoma City - the home team for Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 (the latter two if necessary, of course) - as a -165-to-$100 favorite while if you like Miami you take back +135 for every $100 wagered.
Suffice to say, this dog role is new for the Heat who was favored in Round I against the New York Knicks (-900 to $100), was a heavy-duty favorite in Round II against Indiana (again, -900-to-$100) and than was a -550-to-$100 fav against Boston in the aforementioned just-completed NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Could that be a source of motivation for Erik Spoelstra's club? Sure would seem that way to us but whether that underdog role endears the Heat to America at large is a whole 'nother question!
Let's get this party started - here's our Jim Sez NBA Finals Preview:
THE NBA FINALS: #2E MIAMI at #2W OKLAHOMA CITY - Game 1 is Tuesday at 9:05 p.m. ET
First things first:
This best-of-seven set - remember it's got the 2-3-2 format that goes back almost 30 years now - will indeed be about the superstar players and who can rally their side at crunch time but the $64,000 question entering this title series is can Miami now include Bosh again as a legitimate star after his fantastic 19-point showing in Game 7 against the Celtics the other night?
If you believe that James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh are primed for a big series here than you surely should make the case that "their" three are better than the Thunder's big three of Durant, point guard Russell Westbrook and Sixth Man Award winner James Harden.
Ask yourself who's the better trio and you're bound to say Miami.
But - alas - there's always more to things than meet the eye:
The Thunder - through 15 post-season games - has seen Durant (27.8 points per game), Westbrook (21.7 ppg) and Harden (17.6 ppg) take turns taking over games with blistering scoring runs and how about the fact that the ultra-electric Durant actually is shooting better than 50 percent from the field in these playoffs (see 50.5 percent) plus he's nailed 87 percent of his free throws in the playoffs and so the three-time NBA scoring champ knows how to get his points and so far there's nobody out there in NBA-land that can seemingly check him ... so does James make it his priority to try guarding Durant from baseline-to-baseline here? Probably not 'cause even the tireless James won't be able to post his typical offensive numbers if he's totally devoted to slowing down Durant here.
Now consider that Okie City's "supporting cast" has given Scott Brooks' crew more than a few glory minutes this post-season as Serge Ibaka (10.7 ppg) has been an underrated offensive force at times and reserve G Derek Fisher (13-of-34 trifectas in the playoffs) is ready/willing/able to make the big shot when all else fails in a half-court set.
Ask us this very minute and we'll tell you that Oklahoma City will "go small" more often than not with Thabo Sefolosha taking minutes away from husky (but foul-prone) banger Kendrick Perkins - that will allow the Thunder to be more athletic and better suited to play a quick-tempo game and how many times did we see the Heat lolly-gag down the court in transition defense in that seven-game series against the Celtics? Yes, too many to count!
On the flip side, Miami - which has played 18 playoff games this year - won't mind spreading out the court and allowing James (30.8 ppg) and Wade (22.9) to go hard at the hoop but you can expect lots of double-teams on these stars with OKC folks sloughing off the likes of Ibaka, Perkins and/or Sefolosha to see if the Heat's role players can beat 'em.
Two real strategic points to watch here:
The Heat has shown a tendency to get sloppy with the ball (especially in the first half of recent playoff games) and so maybe a jazzed-up Okie City crowd will help energize the Thunder on "D" in these Game 1 and Game 2 tilts - don't be surprised if James takes on more ball-handling chores because he and Wade have been getting a little upset with G Mario Chalmers (11.6 ppg) for some of his blunders and you might even see more of rookie point guard Norris Cole (see 12 assists and just 4 turnovers in his limited playoff minutes) if OKC gets a little daring on defense;
Lastly, the Heat may be counting on James/Wade/Bosh to score 75-to-85 points per game but Miami must get some "cheap points" here and so the X-factor could well be F Udonis Haslem and C Joel Anthony scoring on put-backs and follow-ups: If they can snag a half-dozen (or so) offensive rebounds between 'em per game and convert them into points than Okie City may have to bring back its guards to board and not be so quick to get out on the fast break.
Let the games begin!
Here's how the Heat-Thunder 2011-12 regular-season games went (note that all home teams are in CAPS) as home favorites prevailed on both occasions. Note that NBA Playoff Betting Favorites enter this year's NBA Finals at 44-32-3 ATS (against the spread) for a spiffy .579 winning rate.
|3-25||OKLAHOMA CITY||- 1.5||Miami||OKLAHOMA CITY 103-87|
|4-4||MIAMI||- 3||Oklahoma City||MIAMI 98-93|
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers continue to crush the folks in Las Vegas with this year's NBA Conference Finals action and there's lots more Side & Totals Hoop Winners straight ahead -note the NBA Finals will begin Tuesday night in Oklahoma City -- plus get all the Major-League Baseball Winners too. Now 11-2 in baseball the past week!
BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES
It was a bring-out-the-brooms weekend in MLB Interleague play for the likes of the Tampa Bay Rays, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels from the American League and for the Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Arizona Diamondbacks on the National League side ... so let's examine a couple of the weekend sweep sides:
NEW YORK YANKEES (34-25) - Nobody's asking what's wrong with the Yankees now that they have won eight of their last 10 games and climbed nine games above the .500 mark following Sunday's sweep-clinching 5-4 come-from-behind win against the visiting New York Mets. No doubt the Yanks were aided/abetted by the fact the Mets didn't add to their leads in both the second inning (a Jason Bay strikeout with the bases loaded and one out) and in the eighth inning (a Josh Thole strikeout with runners on first-and-third and only one out).
Those slip-ups at the plate by the Mets allowed the Yanks to hang around and there was Bombers catcher Russell Martin bashing his second home run of the game deep into the left-field stands to win it and deflate the gang from Queens with just the second Yankee Stadium sweep of the Mets in Interleague play (and the first time it happened since 2003, believe it or not).
Magic formula for the Yankees: Just pitch soon-to-be-40-year-old Andy Pettitte who picked off two more base-runners en route to his sixth-inning stint.
WASHINGTON (35-23) - Don't look now but there's only one NL team with a better record than these hotsy-totsy Nats (see the 39-22 Los Angeles Dodgers) as Davey Johnson's club went into Fenway Park this past weekend and whipped up on the Boston Red Sox in straight set fashion ... that's 7-4, 4-2 and 4-3 and note starters Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez earned wins in the first two games of the series and then underrated RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2.91 ERA) kept the Bosox in relative check while allowing three runs and seven hits in seven innings of work.
P.S., the Nationals had been a lifetime 0-9 record at Fenway Park before this June weekend series. Hmmm.
Heck, even on a day when Nats' star 19-year-old OF Bryce Harper didn't start the game because of a sore back (maybe he should stop crashing into so many fences!) he wound up scoring the game-winning run as he drew a pinch-hit walk in the top of the ninth inning and scored from first on Roger Bernadina's clutch two-out double.
It always seems somebody new is picking up the Nationals these days and can you please reserve another All-Star Game spot for Washington closer Tyler Clippard (eight saves this year and three in a row at Fenway Park this past weekend) 'cause he should be headed to Kansas City for that Midsummer Classic.
NOTE: We will re-cap the NBA Finals Game 1 between Miami at Oklahoma City in the next edition of Jim Sez ... so don't miss out!