I hear you Indiana Pacers fans. I know the Miami Heat are up 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, which means the Heat have yet to earn their berth in the 2014 NBA Finals. I also know that Roy Hibbert scoring zero points, Lance Stephenson swatting at the hornet’s nest and Paul George not being a hero means you’ve got no chance. With that said, who would the Heat rather face in the finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs?
CASE FOR THE THUNDER
This is quite the unique situation for the Heat, as they’ll face one of two teams that they beat for their previous two championships. The Heat beat the Thunder back in 2012 in five games and weren’t truly tested. Flash forward to this season and the Thunder are similar in a lot of ways (minus James Harden, of course).
During the season, the Thunder split their series with the Heat. In their first appearance, the Thunder beat the Heat in Miami pretty soundly, with the Thunder shooting 16-for-27 from the 3-point line en route to a 112-95 win. The second game went the opposite way, with the Heat laying down the hammer in a 103-81 win in which the Thunder shot 37.8 percent from the field and just 2-for-20 from the 3-point line.
The Thunder have two of the top-10 players in the league with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but they’re not a deep team. If the Heat can keep Durant and Westbrook from going off, the Thunder really have nobody to depend on. Serge Ibaka is hurting, Caron Butler is underwhelming and Reggie Jackson is inconsistent.
If the Thunder don’t shoot a remarkable percentage from the 3-point line, they really don’t have much of a chance against the Heat in a series. The Heat defend the 3-point line pretty well and are on a 6-game streak of holding opponents to 10 makes or less. During their playoff run, they’ve only allowed one team to make over 10 — the Brooklyn Nets in their sole win of the series, when they went 15-for-25.
CASE FOR THE SPURS
The Heat also split their season series with the San Antonio Spurs at a game each. The first matchup was a laugher in Miami, with the Heat routing the Spurs 113-101, in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Heat shot 58.1 percent from the field, with the starters going 26-for-39 (66.7 percent). Game two was in San Antonio, with the Spurs returning the favor. San Antonio shot 50.6 percent from the field and held the Heat to just 43 percent as they won 111-87.
There’s no doubt that the Spurs provide a different kind of challenge than the Heat. No disrespect to Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, but individually none of them are true superstars. But, that’s why the Spurs have been so successful — they don’t have to rely on one or two guys to win. That’s a problem for the Heat, because they can’t key on one or two guys.
The Spurs are a complete team that happens to be coached by surefire Hall-of-Famer Gregg Popovich. They’re No. 7 in the NBA in offensive rating and No. 3 in defensive rating. They can run up the score or they can grind it out and shut you down. During their current playoff run, four players are averaging between 13-19 points, seven different players are shooting above 35 percent from the 3-point line and over their last nine games, nobody has shot 47 percent or better from the field.
Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter prove to be difficult matchups for the Heat, as they have to rely much more on their scheme than having tremendous individual efforts. The Spurs depth also means the Heat can’t rely on the starters wearing down or getting into foul trouble. Simply put, there is no “easy” lineup to face when the Spurs are involved.
WHO IS IT?
To me, this is an easy one. The Heat would much rather deal with facing the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, the league’s MVP may go off for huge numbers and carry his team to a victory, but as a whole, the Thunder are the weaker team with the weaker coach in Scott Brooks.
Not to mention, if the Thunder manage to make it past the Spurs, it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight that will put some serious wear and tear on the team. The Heat will enter the 2014 NBA Finals as the fresh, rested team and will run roughshod over the weary Thunder. One last side note — the Heat don’t want to have to beat the Spurs without home court advantage.