OKC Thunder-Miami Heat: Five questions for Sunday's game
Does Miami have an answer for James Harden? Which team executes better down the stretch? Darnell Mayberry tackles five important questions for Sunday's game.
No one on either side will admit it.
But they don't have to. We all know the truth.
Sunday's game inside Chesapeake Energy Arena is as big as it gets.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Miami Heat in the first meeting between the two teams this season and, in terms of significance, this battle of conference heavyweights could hold far greater implications than any other regular-season game.
This could be an NBA Finals preview.
Oklahoma City continues to sit atop the Western Conference standings, as it has all season. Miami, meanwhile, is second in the East but still holds a trump card over first-place Chicago from last year's playoffs.
While a handful of teams could derail the Thunder and Heat, it certainly appears as though both teams are on a collision course to meet again for all the marbles in three months.
With that as the backdrop, Sunday's game is worthy of close scrutiny. The things that occur in this contest could serve as clues for what type of Finals series we'd be in store for. And both teams have plenty to prove against each other.
Ignoring the obvious matchups involving the stars, here are five important questions for Sunday's game, as they could come into play in June.
Does Miami have an answer for James Harden?
The playoffs are all about matchups. And in those matchups, an X-factor routinely makes all the difference. Harden has shown his ability to be that X-factor for the Thunder. The Heat, however, don't have a player outside of its stars who can match Harden's offensive production and might not have a player on the entire roster who can stop Harden. LeBron James and Shane Battier are big, physical forwards who figure to give Harden the most fits. But the more they key in on Harden, the more liberty it will give Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
How will OKC's transition defense stack up against the Heat's fast break?
There isn't a better team in the league at turning mistakes into made field goals. Statistically, Denver ranks first in fast break points. But those numbers are a little skewed considering the Heat handle business in three quarters most nights. Officially, Miami is tied with OKC for sixth in fast break points at 16.1 per game. But trust us, the Heat are more dangerous than any other team on the break. How the Thunder defends Miami's transition game will be key, because it's been a bit of a problem area for the Thunder this season. OKC is around the middle of the pack in opponent fast break points, allowing 12.7 per game. The key to the Thunder's success starts with taking care of the ball. The Thunder leads the league in turnovers at 16.5 per game. And if OKC turns it over at a high rate against Miami, it has no chance of stopping the Heat in transition.
Which team executes better down the stretch?
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