NBA Finals Predictions: Heat at Thunder Game 1 Odds and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 6/11/2012
The NBA was never able to give basketball fans LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals, and it doesn’t appear likely to happen anytime soon with Kobe’s Lakers looking rather old. But the hoops gods were very kind this season as we get to see the two best players in the game today face off when LeBron’s Miami Heat face Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals, with Game 1 Tuesday night in OKC. In my opinion, this is the best individual matchup in the Finals since the 1991 Finals when Michael Jordan’s Bulls beat Magic Johnson’s Lakers for MJ’s first title.
LeBron has the three NBA MVP awards, while Durant is the three-time scoring champion. James reached his first Finals in his fourth season (with the Cavs losing to the Spurs). Durant has gotten to the Finals in his fifth season and in just the fourth year of the Thunder’s existence. OKC’s road here was certainly much tougher than Miami’s in terms of opposition as the Thunder knocked off the reigning champion Mavericks, Kobe’s Lakers and then a Spurs team that was on a 20-game winning streak at one point in the West Finals.
Heat at Thunder Betting Story Lines
They say the regular season is pretty much meaningless in the NBA, and that’s normally the case. But the Heat might be kicking themselves right now for not playing stars LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the season’s final two regular-season games, losses at Boston and Washington. Had the Heat won those games, and you have to think they would have (Boston rested Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen in that game), Miami would have finished with a 48-18 record, one game better than the Thunder (47-19). That would, of course, mean home-court advantage in this series.
The teams split two regular-season meetings. On March 25 in Oklahoma City, the Thunder won 103-87 in what was Miami’s worst loss of the season if you throw out that meaningless season finale at the Wizards. Durant had 28 points, nine rebounds and tied his season-high with eight assists, while Kendrick Perkins added a season-best 16 points for the Thunder. The Heat’s Big 3 had 57 points and shot 20-for-39 from the field but the rest of the team was 13-for-32. Oklahoma City had a season-high 13 steals and forced Miami into 21 turnovers (15 by the Big 3) that led to 28 Thunder points.
In the April 4 rematch in Miami, the Heat won 98-93 behind 34 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds from LeBron. At the time it was the Heat’s 17th straight home win. Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 58 points, but Westbrook was 9-for-26 from the field while Durant had a whopping (and career-high) nine turnovers. The Thunder actually outshot Miami by more than five percentage points (43.2-37.3) and led by 11 in the second quarter. That game changed when Westbrook brought James down hard on a breakaway with 5:33 in the second quarter, drawing a flagrant foul. From that point forward, the Heat outscored the Thunder 16-8 to take a one-point lead into the half.
Certainly the Thunder should have a big edge off the bench with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. But Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra could counter that by keeping Bosh as a non-starter. He came off the bench in the final three games vs. the Celtics in the East Finals after missing the previous nine games with an abdominal injury. Spoelstra has only said that his plan was to slowly work Bosh back into the starting lineup. But it was clear in the final two games vs. Boston that Bosh energized the Heat when he entered off the bench, usually midway through the first quarter. It could help neutralize Harden’s impact. But I’m guessing Spoelstra starts Bosh because otherwise the Heat will be overwhelmed down low by Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how often Durant and James guard each other. Durant certainly is the better pure scorer and shooter, but James is a much better defender. And LeBron is playing out of his mind right now. After recording five 30-point, 10-rebound games during the regular season, LeBron has that many in the playoffs. James became the fourth player in NBA postseason history to put up at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in Game 6 and Game 7 victories. LeBron averaged 33.6 points, 11 rebounds and shot 52.7 percent in the series vs. Boston to become only the third player to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds while shooting at least 50 percent from the field in a playoff series.
But in reality this series likely comes down to which Big 3 plays better. During the regular season, the Heat outscored opponents by 12.8 points per 40 minutes with the Big 3 on the floor. For OKC, it was plus-10.6 with Durant, Westbrook and Harden on the floor. But perhaps the key is when the teams are down to just a Big 2 on the floor (i.e. when one star is resting). In that scenario, the Heat are plus-9.9 in these playoffs, while OKC is a worrisome minus-1.2.
Heat at Thunder Betting Odds and Key Trends
OKC opened at -170 on the Bovada series line and as a five-point favorite with the total at 195 for Game 1. The Thunder are 5-3 ATS at home in these playoffs (8-0 SU) and 6-2 on ‘over/under’. The Heat are 4-4 ATS on road and 4-4 O/U.
Miami has failed to cover in its past seven games as an underdog. The Thunder are 5-0 ATS in their past five as a favorite. OKC is 6-0 ATS in its past six games after scoring at least 100 points in the previous game. The under is 8-2 in Miami’s past 10 as a road dog. The over is 10-2 in OKC’s past 12 as a favorite. The under is 4-1 in the past five meetings between these two.
NBA Finals Predictions: Heat at Thunder Betting Picks
So will it be the start of a potential dynasty for the young Thunder or the proverbial monkey off the back for LeBron James? I think the fact the Heat were there last year and got a taste of the Finals is the deciding factor. Plus, they are the better defensive team. They take Game 1 (take the over) and the series in six games much to the chagrin of most of America.
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