Thunder beat writer John Rohde breaks down the matchups between the world champion Miami Heat and runner-up OKC Thunder:
Mario Chalmers vs. Russell Westbrook
Analysis: This has not been the mismatch you'd expect it to be. Chalmers has more than held his own against the Thunder, making clutch shots and big passes at key moments. In this season's previous meeting on Christmas Day, Chalmers had 20 points and went 4 for 8 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Westbrook shot 5 for 19 from the field (including 0 for 4 in the fourth quarter) and went 1 for 4 from 3-point range. He finished with 21 points thanks to going 10 for 12 from the free-throw line. Westbrook did have 11 rebounds (six offensive), but also committed five turnovers. If the Thunder is to end its five-game losing streak against Miami that dates back to last year's Finals, Westbrook must separate himself at this position.
Dwyane Wade vs. Thabo Sefolosha
Analysis: Wade was battling a bad knee during last year's Finals, but still stepped up big when needed. Wade had 21 points on Christmas, which included 11 in the fourth quarter. This season, Wade is shooting a career-best 50.7 percent, but just 28.3 percent from 3-point range and 75.1 percent on free throws, so he's not nearly so lethal behind the lines. Sefolosha has sizzled offensive as of late, posting back-to-back season highs in points with 18 and 20 against Phoenix. Sefolosha also is shooting 47.1 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from 3-point range. If Sefolosha can continue with his stellar play offensively, the gap at this position against the Heat will narrow significantly. DeAndre Liggins can also help out defending Wade.
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
Analysis: There's only one opponent where Durant isn't the overwhelming pick here, and it's when he faces James. Durant occasionally will attempt to defend James, although a majority of that chore figures to go to Sefolosha with occasional tag-team help from Serge Ibaka (inside) and Kendrick Perkins (outside). James will defend Durant, and will be as physical as possible while doing so. Otherwise, Shane Battier will be assigned to Durant. James wore out the Thunder every way imaginable in last year's Finals, averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists while also converting 82.6 percent of his free throws. It'll be interesting to see how well Durant's improved all-around game holds up against the league's best player.
Udonis Haslem vs. Serge Ibaka
Analysis: A wild-card position for the Heat, which will start Haslem here, Battier or possibly move Chris Bosh to this spot and bump Haslem to center. For the Thunder, the exact positions don't matter because Ibaka will defend Haslem wherever he roams, while Perkins and Nick Collison will alternate defending Bosh. Truthfully, it doesn't matter who starts for either team, it's who finishes. In this season's previous meeting, Haslem played just 16 minutes while Battier played 23½ minutes and reserve center Joel Anthony played 12½. Ibaka frequently defended James in the last meeting when OKC went small, and Ibaka struggled mightily — then again, who doesn't against James? Ibaka's defense is a must for the Thunder to succeed.
Chris Bosh vs. Kendrick Perkins
Analysis: This is the position where Thunder fans lose their collective minds. Many blame Perkins for last year's Finals loss and conveniently ignore the struggles of James Harden (37.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from 3-point range), Westbrook (13.6 percent from 3-point range) and Sefolosha (29.6 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from 3-point range). Bosh remains the direct beneficiary of having James and Wade as teammates, whose mere presence often leave Bosh with uncontested jumpers off kick-out passes and easy putbacks when he's left unchecked underneath. Because both teams have the ability to go with smaller lineups, look for Sefolosha and Kevin Martin to get extended minutes, which was the case on Christmas.
Ray Allen vs. Kevin Martin
Analysis: Two of the best point producers off the bench could bring an entertaining sideshow. Allen had struggled from the field lately, going 4 for 28 (.143) in a five-game stretch heading into Tuesday night's home victory against Portland. The NBA's all-time 3-pointer shooter still commands respect and must be closely guarded. Martin, who was acquired in the Harden trade, loves his new home gym and is averaging 17.0 points while shooting 51.9 percent from 3-point range and 91.3 percent from the free-throw line at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Martin must supply the points and clutch open shooting that Harden failed to provide in last year's Finals. Martin had 15 points in 35 minutes in the Christmas game.
Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Joel Anthony, Mike Miller vs. Kevin Martin, Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson, Hasheem Thabeet, DeAndre Liggins
Analysis: With last season's Sixth Man of the Year traded to Houston and the subpar return of Eric Maynor off knee surgery, the Thunder bench has been closely scrutinized this year. So far, however, OKC's bench has a clean sweep in shooting statistics, leading the NBA in field-goal percentage (.468), 3-point percentage (.392) and free-throw percentage (.798). Miami's bench ranks 22nd, fifth and eighth in the same categories. OKC's bench ranks 21st in scoring and the Heat ranks 27th. Miami ranks 14th in minutes played and OKC ranks 21st. The Thunder ranks 24th and the Heat 25th in rebounding, 21st and 26th in assists and 15th and 22nd in steals. The Heat ranks 18th and OKC ranks 23rd in blocks and seventh and 11th in turnovers.
Erik Spoelstra vs. Scott Brooks
Analysis: Spoelstra is blessed with three Hall of Famers who are in — or near — their prime. James and Bosh are 28 years old, Wade is 31 and each owns a ring after last season. They also have combined for 26 All-Star appearances. Brooks had two budding Hall of Famers in Durant and Westbrook, who are both 24 years old and have combined for seven All-Star games. The James-Wade-Bosh combo is considerably advantageous for the Heat, which means the Thunder has to work harder with more moving parts to succeed, which makes Brooks' chore more difficult. OKC relies heavily on chemistry, which often flourishes under solid coaching. The Thunder, which is 46-10 after a loss the last three seasons, is impressively consistent.