Last night, the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder played in a nationally-televised game that was supposed to give the country a preview of what the 2014 NBA Finals might look like. The belief is that the Heat and Thunder both have what it takes to reach the NBA Finals this season—and assuming they do reach the Finals, the belief is that a rematch of the 2012 NBA Finals would make for one hell of a series. There's just one problem, though: After seeing last night's game, we're not so sure that the 2014 NBA Finals would turn out any differently than the 2012 NBA Finals, which the Heat won in just five games against the Thunder.
Was it just us, or did it look like the Thunder took the night off last night? Even though they had Russell Westbrook back in the lineup for the first time in almost two months, the Thunder trailed by 17 points at the end of the first quarter. And even though they climbed back to make it a 7-point game at halftime and got 28 points from Kevin Durant during the game, they looked incredibly lackluster in the second half and ended up losing 103-81. It was a pretty embarrassing performance, especially when you consider that it was a home game for the Thunder.
It has us worried about the possibility of what might happen if the Thunder and the Heat meet up in the NBA Finals this year. Because after seeing what we saw last night, we're not sure if Oklahoma City will be able to keep up with Miami and stop them from winning a third consecutive championship. So in light of the blowout loss that Oklahoma City suffered last night, we put together a list of the 5 Things That Have Us Concerned About the Thunder's Chances of Knocking Off the Heat in the NBA Finals. If these two teams do meet in the Finals, we sincerely hope that last night isn't an indication of how things will go...
1. The only way the Thunder could stop LeBron James last night was by injuring him.
There's a reason why King James has recorded more than 500 straight double-digit scoring games. It's impossible to shut him down completely. But last night, the Thunder didn't shut him down at all. He scored 16 points in the first quarter and finished the game with 33 points total. And truthfully, he probably could have gone for 40 if not for the hard hit that Serge Ibaka delivered in the fourth quarter that resulted in LeBron leaving the game with a bloody nose. In the end, that was the only way the Thunder managed to stop LeBron. And unless they're planning on giving him seven bloody noses during the NBA Finals, that's going to be a problem.
2. The Thunder have downplayed the impact that Russell Westbrook's return to the lineup is going to have.
Prior to last night's Heat/Thunder game, Kevin Durant was asked his thoughts on Westbrook returning to the lineup after missing 27 games with a knee injury. And he sounded completely unconcerned about what impact it might have on the team. In fact, he made it seem like working Westbrook back into the lineup was going to be easy. "It's nothing to think about," he said. "We're just going to come in like nothing happened and play his game." The problem, though, is that something did happen. Westbrook missed almost two months of action, and Durant went on a total tear during that time. Durant also became more of a distributor during Westbrook's absence, which is why he's currently averaging a career high 5.5 assists per game. So the Thunder can't pretend like Westbrook's return isn't going to have an impact on them. That's not to say that they should make excuses about it. But they do need to realize that Westbrook and Durant are going to have to get back into rhythm in order for the Thunder to win a title this season.
3. The Thunder don't have a big man that strikes fear into the hearts of the Heat.
If you want to have a chance to beat the Heat, one way to do it is to establish an inside presence and take advantage of the fact that Miami doesn't have an All-Star center. The Indiana Pacers are one team that have been able to do that, thanks to Roy Hibbert. But the Thunder don't have a guy in the post that makes the Heat sweat. Serge Ibaka is obviously a solid player, but he's not built to take over games offensively. Kendricks Perkins is…well, no. Just no. And Steven Adams may turn into a really good player one day. But he's still too young to make a real impact in the NBA Finals. So the Thunder won't be able to expose one of the weaknesses that the Heat have if they meet in the Finals.
4. The Thunder need to hit threes and shoot the ball well to beat teams like the Heat.
The Thunder are capable of beating the Heat—and beating the Heat pretty soundly—when they bring their A game. They proved it about three weeks ago when they went to Miami and beat the Heat 112-95 in front of their home crowd. The Thunder went 16-for-27 from behind the three-point line during that game and got major shooting contributions from guys like Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher. Last night, though, they were just 2-for-20 from three with Lamb and Fisher combining to go 0-for-8 from deep. They also shot more than 50 percent from the field in their win in January, while they shot just 38 percent in their loss last night. So in order for the Thunder to beat the Heat, they need Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to play well, but they also need guys like Lamb and Fisher to make notable contributions. And if you're a Thunder fan, does that give you confidence?
5. The Thunder are going to have a much more difficult time getting to the 2014 NBA Finals than the Heat.
If the NBA Playoffs started today (get ready to hear this a lot over the course of the next couple months), the Heat would have to play the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs and then the Toronto Raptors or the Brooklyn Nets in the second round before their inevitable meeting with the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, the Thunder would have to play the Dallas Mavericks (a team that's 32-23 right now) in the first round, the Los Angeles Clippers or the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round, and then either the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors, or the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. Regardless, it's clear that the Thunder would have to play three difficult series prior to playing the Heat in the NBA Finals, while the Heat could more or less coast to the Eastern Conference Finals before getting their only real test against the Pacers. So if both of these teams made the NBA Finals, the Heat would be the more rested team. And that would not bode well for the Thunder.
So what can we say? After last night, we're worried that we're going to end up seeing this again at the end of this season if the Heat and Thunder play in the Finals: