Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dream matchup: Heat's LeBron James versus Thunder's Kevin Durant

The NBA couldn't have asked for a better scenario than to have the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat meet up in the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant versus LeBron James and OKC's big three versus Miami's big three are the matchups that everyone will be dying to watch.

And there's no denying that how Durant and James play each other will be a big factor in deciding the outcome of this series as well as how Russell Westbrook matches up against Dwyane Wade and which player out of Chris Bosh and James Harden has a bigger impact off the bench. But while those matchups will be important, the outcome of this series could hinge even more on how the role players perform.

The Thunder's Western Conference Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs showed why that may be the case. While Durant, Westbrook and Harden played well against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili; Oklahoma City's role players are what got them over the top.

In each game there was a different role player producing big plays for the Thunder. Whether it was Thebo Sefolosha getting hot from behind the arc and playing great defense against Parker or Serge Ibaka  going a perfect 11 for 11 from the field. The Spurs also got great play from guys like Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard.

On that same note, the Heat had problems dispatching the Boston Celtics during the Eastern Conference Finals due to the lack of production from their role players. The Heat didn't have the luxury of facing the Celtics with its big three for most of the series since Bosh was sidelined for the first four games with an abdominal strain.

The role players gave James and Wade a little help during those four games but not enough to help Wade and James overcome Boston's furious four of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. By Game 5 though, the Celtics had figured out how to totally neutralize everyone not named Wade or James.

Bosh would enter the series for the first time in Game 5 but he contributed very little during the Heat's Game 5 loss. Bosh and the role players were equally ineffective in Miami's Game 6 win. James had to have a historic 45-point, 15-rebound night to stave off elimination at the hands of the Celtics.

Game 7 was a different story though with Bosh pouring in 19 points and eight rebounds while Battier hit four three-pointers to help the Heat advence to their second NBA Finals appearance in a row. Bosh's play couldn't have come at a better time with the Heat getting ready to matchup against Durant, Westbrook and Harden.

I say this because the same factors that helped them win in each team's last playoff series was also an important factor in their wins against each other during the regular season. Miami and Oklahoma City split the two-game series 1-1 with both teams winning at home.

Home-court advantage won't be as big of a deal during this series as how they won those games though.

In the Thunder's home win versus Miami, they got big contributions from Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins who combined for 35 points hitting 16 of 21 shots from the field. They only had six points combined in their loss in Miami. Meanwhile, Miami got decent contributions from Mario Chalmers in their home-court win and from Shane Battier in their road loss but there was another factor that ended up deciding how the Heat fared in those games.

In Miami's win, James had to have one of his 34-point, 10-assist efforts in order for them to pull out their five-point victory. James had scored only 17 points in their earlier loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City so the 34 points he put up when they won in Miami was his response for his lackluster play in the previous game. It seems that just like in the Boston series, James had to feel the pressure before he responded with a big game.

James shouldn't need any motivation to put up huge numbers in this series though. This is James' third Finals appearance and he is determined not to go 0-3 in the championship series.

Despite how well James plays though he will struggle to come up big against one of the few players that can play him one-on-one in Durant. Durant is taller, longer and is just as explosive as James is on the offensive end which makes this one of the most interesting matchups since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were dueling each other for championships during the 80's.

Although that is the matchup we want to see, it is possible that Durant and James will ultimately cancel each other out in this series. The same may go for the other two members of each team's big three.

And if that happens then how these team's role players perform may determine the outcome of this series. Either way it goes, this is guaranteed to be a historic series.

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Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.

Also check out these stories:

2012 Draft will determine Jordan’s legacy with Charlotte Bobcats

Pacers’ Danny Granger awoke Miami’s sleeping giant: LeBron James

Thunder’s James Harden is the ‘Closer’



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