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.