LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook. The 2012 NBA Finals are set to be a superstar-packed sensation, even without mentioning James Harden, Chris Bosh, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.

The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are on a collision course to what could be the most exciting championship series in recent years as both teams enter the final round with their top superstars, James and Durant, playing at their best. It’ll be the Thunder’s Big Three versus Miami’s version, a pairing which could send television ratings to all-time highs.

Miami’s claim to fame all season has been an opportunistic defense that specializes on forcing turnovers and fuels their high-flying fast break. The Heat’s half-court offense has been a problem over the last few years, even with James and Wade starring, simply because jump shooting has never been strong suits for either. Both are streaky shooters at best, which makes the return of Bosh from an abdominal injury even more important.

Bosh is without a doubt the team’s best shooter in a half-court set, and his range should open up driving lanes for Wade and James to exploit. The Heat are at their best when they’re on the move and jetting down court. But if there’s one team that goes from defense to offense quicker than the Miami Heat, it’s the Thunder.

The eerie thing about the Thunder and the Heat is that both teams are mirror images of each other. Both love to force turnovers and get out and fly. Both are jam-packed with a trio of superstars, and both possess mismatches which create situations that are impossible for their opponents to cover. But the Thunder are clearly the better shooting squad, as Durant and Harden absolutely cannot be left open. Miami will find forcing turnovers from Oklahoma City rather difficult as the Thunder remain poised and under control for such a young team. Westbrook gives the Thunder one of the best advantages in the series because his matchup against much-maligned Heat point guard Mario Chalmers could decide the outcome.

Chalmers remains one of the question marks in Miami’s starting lineup and Westbrook has a decisive advantage over the smaller and slower Heat guard. The 23-year-old Thunder guard has averaged just under 22 points per game this postseason to go along with 5.6 assists and 5.1 rebounds. If Westbrook plays up to his potential then the Thunder definitely have the decisive edge in the series.

Durant and James will likely cancel each other out and the contributions between Bosh and Harden should have the same effect. Thunder shooting guard and defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha has bottled up Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker so far this postseason, so he should be able to contain a limited Wade. The key is Westbrook and the Thunder have him, making the Oklahoma City Thunder the AFRO’s pick over the Miami Heat.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO