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No one should assume Heat is the team to beat

Thunder has emphatically proven, in front of a national-television audience, just how premature it would be for anyone to hand Miami the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 26, 2012

Harden did what he does best, coming off the Thunder's bench Sunday to score 19 points on 6-for-7 shooting with three rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes. But there were stretches where Miami unleashed Battier, its bulldog defender, on Harden and stymied OKC's Sixth Man. Battier used his length, strength and savvy to disrupt Harden unlike any other defender we've seen. Battier forced Harden (game-high seven turnovers) into dribbling into a crowd and making bad passes on multiple possessions. Only when Harden was covered by Wade did he really have success. If these two teams do indeed meet in the Finals, Harden will be the game's biggest X-factor. And Battier is Miami's best chance at eliminating him. The question is how much can the Heat afford to keep Battier on anybody but Durant?

*The Thunder's discipline is bad news for the Heat.

Strange, isn't it, that for the better part of 48 games the story of the Thunder's season is inconsistency, yet in the biggest game of the year the Thunder strings together by far its most disciplined performance? Against a defensive team that Thunder coach Scott Brooks before the game called “stifling at times,” OKC remained poised and patient all night. The Thunder made the extra pass throughout and tallied 26 assists, one shy of tying a season high. Here's why that's significant. Dallas showed in last year's Finals how simple discipline and undying trust in the system can be the detonator to a Heat team that in the past has been a time bomb in fourth quarters. We saw it Sunday. When Miami fell behind by as many as 15 in the third quarter, Wade went into hero mode, jacking all-or-nothing 3-pointers to try to save the Heat. Fortunately for Miami, three dropped and kept the Heat in it. But that's the exact type of ball that has burned Miami in the past.

*Miami can't match or handle OKC's size advantage

With Chris Bosh in tow, the Heat would have the best big men in a potential Finals series with the Thunder. But if it's Bosh and Joel Anthony against Ibaka and Perkins, then the big man battle tilts in OKC's favor. Add in Udonis Haslem and Ronny Turiaf for Miami, and Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed for the Thunder, and it's a runaway for the Thunder. The Thunder, which has been a pitiful defensive rebounding team, held Miami to four offensive rebounds and just six second-chance points. OKC out-rebounded Miami 36-31 for the game and outscored the Heat 46-36 in the paint. Collison, especially, could have enormous value in a Finals series because of his ability to slide over and draw charges against the Heat's slashing wing players. It's a position of strength for the Thunder, and one that could ultimately help decide which team wins this year's NBA championship.