NBA Finals: Breaking down the Thunder-Heat matchups

Darnell Mayberry takes a look at the matchups for the NBA Finals, including Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James and Thabo Sefolosha vs. Dwyane Wade.
by Darnell Mayberry Modified: June 11, 2012 at 10:47 pm •  Published: June 12, 2012
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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.

EDGE: Thunder.

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.

EDGE: Heat.

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.

EDGE: Heat.

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.

EDGE: Thunder.

5. CENTER

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.

EDGE: Heat.

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.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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