Heat (35-14, 12-11 road) vs. Thunder (39-13, 23-3 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 112.5 (1st), Heat– 112.3 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.9 (8th), Heat – 105.4 (12th)
Pace: Thunder – 93.4 (8th), Heat – 90.6 (21st)
View from the enemy: Heat Index
This isn’t just any other game, at least not from the Thunder’s perspective. They might say publicly that it doesn’t mean more, but it does. If they lose, like Kevin Durant said earlier, it doesn’t mean their season is over. But considering the circumstances, the Thunder need this game over the Heat.
The last time Miami was in Oklahoma City, the Heat were stealing Game 2 from the Thunder en route to four straight wins and an NBA title. The series never came back to OKC. Which means this is a return-to-the-scene type of game for the Heat, surely unbandaging fresh wounds for Thunder fans.
Like that series, the previous matchup on Christmas Day was nip and tuck to the end, with a handful of plays leaning Miami’s way and not OKC’s The two teams are separated by a razor thin margin, but the Heat have figured out a way to be better when it counts.
There’s a lot on the line tonight. The MVP isn’t necessarily up for grabs, but the narrative of LeBron > Durant will just continue to grow with another Miami win. The Thunder need to exorcise demons for a lot of reasons tonight and while they can’t win the NBA title, they can at least prove to themselves that they’re right there with the Heat. That they have what it takes to win.
The Thunder have lost five straight to the Heat. There’s no other team in the league that has held that kind of edge over OKC the past few years. It’s a mental thing right now I think. Just overcoming the Heat for the Thunder’s own good is as important as anything. Because if these teams are destined to meet again, the Thunder surely don’t want to be on a six-game skid against them and wondering if they’re just not good enough.
Miami coming in: The Heat played Tuesday beating the Blazers
Three Big Things
1. Approaching the Heat. Scott Brooks told reporters that he doesn’t plan to adjust to the Heat, despite the way the last five games went. He’s using his same starting five and plans on sticking with the same rotations and playing time. It sounds insane knowing what we know, but here’s the thinking: The Thunder believe they are good enough to beat the Heat as is. Multiple sources within and close to the team have told me that. They genuinely think that they’re better. And Brooks is rolling the dice to try and let them prove it.
In that includes what to do with Perk. Brooks is probably going to play him and here’s the thing: In terms of defense, I think Perk works. I think the Thunder still matchup well with him on the floor. The issue I have is on the other end. The Heat don’t guard Perk, don’t respect him at all as a scoring threat, so they over-hedge, clog the paint and double ball-handlers. Nick Collison is a threat up to 20 feet out and can score inside. That’s why he needs minutes, because he gives OKC an extra offensive dimension, not because of the defensive matchups.
2. Russell Westbrook. He’s the one thing the Heat don’t have any kind of answer for. No one to guard him, no one to slow him down, no answer for him anywhere. He didn’t play well at all in the first meeting on Christmas, really hurting OKC’s chances. Because Westbrook is potentially what can separate the Thunder from the Heat. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can add extra scoring for the Heat, but Westbrook is so much more explosive. He’s got to play well.
3. KD and LeBron. The matchup of the two best players on planet Earth. Enjoy it. But with the way Durant has found himself in foul trouble the past five meetings with Miami, it’s a question as to what the Thunder do with LeBron. Durant is the best option guarding him and has done solid work on Bron in the past, but he can’t stay out of foul trouble. If Durant can keep clean of the whistle, the Thunder’s best bet on slowing down the LeBron freight train is KD.
Tip at 7:00 CT. Go Come On.