1. POINT GUARD
RUSSELL WESTBROOK VS. MARIO CHALMERS
ANALYSIS: What looks on paper to be the most favorable mismatch for the Thunder might not be as one-sided as you would suspect. Westbrook has struggled against Miami. He averaged just 20.5 points in the two regular season games against the Heat. That was Westbrook's third lowest scoring output of the year against any opponent he faced at least twice. His 31 percent shooting against the Heat was the lowest connection rate against any opponent this season. The numbers were nearly identical last year (19.5 points on 31.6 percent shooting). Chalmers, meanwhile, has stepped up while the Heat has been without a fully healthy Chris Bosh. Chalmers is likely to come into this series with soaring confidence. But Westbrook has a way of making opponents shrink in head-to-head matchups.
2. SHOOTING GUARD
THABO SEFOLOSHA VS. DWYANE WADE
ANALYSIS: Wade is not as productive as he once was, but he's still one of the most explosive players in the league. On any given night, he can erupt on the offensive end. It's up to Sefolosha to stop that from happening. It might sound odd, but after chasing Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili around, Sefolosha actually gets a bit of a break against Wade. Unlike Parker, Wade is not going to be orchestrating the pick-and-roll all series. And unlike Ginobili, Wade isn't as big of a threat from the outside. That should help Sefolosha have success. But the key for Sefolosha will be in keeping Wade off the foul line. Wade is averaging seven foul shots this postseason and is coming off a conference finals in which he connected on 81.4 percent from the foul line.
3. SMALL FORWARD
KEVIN DURANT VS. LEBRON JAMES
ANALYSIS: It's the head-to-head NBA Finals matchup most everyone craved throughout the year. Can it live up to the hype? You bet it can. What makes us so sure is the fact that these two will be defending each other throughout much of the series. Every trip down court has the potential to provide something spectacular. And with arguably the game's top two players both seeking their first championship, expect the battle to be fierce. James, though, figures to have the upper hand. For as great as Durant has been in these playoffs, James has been even better. He's leading all postseason scorers with 30.8 points per game to go with 9.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and nearly two steals. It's James' defense that puts him over the top. The likelihood of James slowing down Durant is much greater than the other way around. And if he ever has to, James is capable of switching over to Westbrook or James Harden and doing a number on them, too.
4. POWER FORWARD
SERGE IBAKA VS. UDONIS HASLEM
ANALYSIS: Here's where things get a little cloudy. There's no telling what Miami is going to do with its two big men, and coach Erik Spoelstra isn't saying. Spoelstra could start Haslem, Shane Battier or Chris Bosh here. Our guess is that Haslem gets the nod to give the Heat additional size and brawn to compete with the Thunder's big men. If so, and Bosh starts opposite Haslem, their positions become irrelevant. Be prepared for a cross-matchup if that happens, with Kendrick Perkins guarding Bosh. Ibaka is the league's leading shot blocker but isn't quite the rebounder that Haslem is. Both are solid shooters from midrange, but Ibaka seemingly will have more of an opportunity to make an impact on the offensive end. Those contributions, coupled with Ibaka's defensive presence, give the Thunder the advantage.
KENDRICK PERKINS VS. CHRIS BOSH
ANALYSIS: How healthy is Bosh? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining who has the edge here. Bosh says he's nearly 100 percent. But he has yet to regain his starting job since returning from an abdominal injury in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Bosh, however, did play 31 minutes in Game 7 against Boston and was extremely effective with 19 points and eight rebounds. He made 8-for-10 shots, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. If he's able to sustain that effort, the Thunder is in trouble. While Perkins is capable of defending Bosh even on the perimeter, it would be eliminate what Perk does best. So if Bosh is effective from the outside, look for the Thunder to go small and play Durant heavy minutes at power forward so he can matchup with Bosh.
6. SIXTH MAN
JAMES HARDEN VS. MIKE MILLER
ANALYSIS: There was a time in Mike Miller's career that this would have been a fantastic matchup. Unfortunately, that time was six years ago, when Harden was a junior in high school as Miller earned the league's Sixth Man of the Year honor. Now, Miller is nothing more than an injury-plagued sharpshooter seeking a shot at a title before calling it a career. You could consider Shane Battier the Heat's sixth man, but with Miami's starting lineup remaining a mystery Battier might be a starter for all we know. If Battier is moved back to the bench — which would be a wise move for defensive purposes — he would give Harden more trouble. But either way, the Thunder has the advantage.
7. PERIMETER BENCH
ANALYSIS: For the Thunder, it's Harden, Derek Fisher and Daequan Cook. For the Heat, it's potentially Shane Battier, Mike Miller, James Jones and Norris Cole. Oklahoma City has more playmaking and versatility from its backcourt off the bench. Miami has some potentially dangerous 3-point threats. We know what Harden can and likely will do. The X-factor among this corps could be Cook. If he doesn't get squeezed out of the rotation, he could be a tremendous asset to the Thunder by providing floor spacing and some much-needed perimeter shooting. But it's up to Cook to prove that he deserves minutes. The only way he can do that is by knocking down shots.
8. INTERIOR BENCH
ANALYSIS: Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison come off the bench for the Thunder. Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf form the Heat's frontcourt second unit … if you dare call it that. Miami has gone small at various times throughout this postseason run, at times not even using Anthony or Turiaf. If the Heat stays small and starts Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem, that leaves Chris Bosh as the Heat's big man off the bench. But it doesn't appear likely that Miami can afford to continue to do that with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins forming a formidable frontcourt tandem. Anthony and Turiaf should have more value in this series. Both are defensive-minded and can impact games with rebounding and shot-blocking. But the Thunder's frontcourt depth appears to be too much for Miami and potentially could be a major advantage in this series.
SCOTT BROOKS VS. ERIK SPOELSTRA
ANALYSIS: Both are two of the best up-and-coming coaches in the league. This is Spoelstra's second trip to the NBA Finals as a head coach and Brooks' first. Despite the never-ending scrutiny that blankets Spoelstra, he's actually done a tremendous job guiding his team. But you wouldn't know it based on the countless criticisms aimed at him. Brooks has been able to fly much more under the radar in Oklahoma City. Nonetheless, the winner of this coaching duel will come out lauded as one of the best in the game. The loser likely will hear whispers about whether he's the right man for the job. What separates Brooks going in is his team's togetherness. Brooks has pushed all the right buttons and gotten the absolute best out of his bunch. There is a clear pecking order, which leads to more organized play when it matters most. Miami, after two years, still seems to struggle with defined roles at times. And with bigger egos on Miami's roster, the Heat never seems far from altercations.
10. HOME COURT
CHESAPEAKE ENERGY ARENA VS. AMERICAN AIRLINES ARENA
ANALYSIS: The Thunder went 26-7 at home in the regular season and has an 8-0 mark in the postseason. The Heat went 28-5 at home in the regular season and is 8-2 in the playoffs. Both teams protected their home courts in the regular season meetings, and both had home winning streaks of at least 14 games. Thus, it's as even as it gets. So we're going to decided this matchup by the home crowds. And when you compare the two fan bases, it's really not even close. There's a reason Thunder fans are widely considered to be the best in the league. They're there early. They stand throughout the majority of the game. And they cheer like crazy whether the Thunder is ahead by 20 or down 20 and clawing back. In Miami, the Heat would be lucky to see the lower bowl full by the end of the first quarter.
ANALYSIS: At this point in the playoffs you've got to toss momentum out of the window. Whatever has been done to this point is significant for character-building purposes during a march to a championship. But the good vibes from previous wins won't carry over and fuel victories in the finals. For what it's worth, both teams come into this showdown with a good head of steam. The Thunder is coming off four straight wins against San Antonio, which had won 20 straight before getting ousted by OKC. Miami, meanwhile, is coming off an encouraging Game 7 win over the Celtics and has LeBron James playing at an incredible level. It's a tough call. But since the Thunder had the tougher road to the finals, Oklahoma City gets the slight edge.
ANALYSIS: This is LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's third trip to the NBA Finals. Wade won a title in 2006. Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and James Jones are making their second appearance in the Finals. From that standpoint alone, the Heat has an advantage. Miami got here last year, and the Heat figures to be more comfortable and more understanding of what it takes to separate itself from the sideshows and focus on the task. Although Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed have championship experience, the Thunder's young core is experiencing all this for the first time. While Oklahoma City's players are saying all the right things and appear dialed in, there's really no telling how the big stage will impact the Thunder once the ball is thrown up.