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Ball Don't Lie

Three things to consider before Game 3 of the NBA Finals

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden are obviously not taking Game 3 seriously, so bet accordingly (Getty Images …

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat will tip off Game 3 of the 2012 NBA Finals on Sunday night, in the midst of an evocative and entertaining series that is knotted at 1-1. In quick-hit format, here are three things to dig as we head into Game 3:

1. Oklahoma City "quick start"

Be quick, but don't hurry. And don't press. But come out aggressive. But not too aggressively. Remember what we talked about, but play freely. Understand that the first quarter means as much as the fourth quarter, but don't try to win a game in just 12 minutes of playing. Concentrate on utilizing your strengths, but don't let that stop you from hitting the open man and sharing the ball. It's now or never, but we've got a long way to go.

(OH MY GOD MAKE IT STOP)

[Marc J. Spears: Thunder vow to avoid siren song of South Beach]

After holding their own in the opening minutes against the Heat in the regular season, the Thunder have been badly outplayed in the opening stanzas of both Games 1 and 2. Five days into this series, they've no doubt had their ears rung about the slow starts, and you can bet the focus will be there as the team attempts to make a point early in Game 3. Of course, too much focus can give you a pounding headache. It's a delicate balance, as the Thunder attempt to adapt to the pressure that they're about to put on themselves in Game 3's first quarter, and while it won't decide the series it will be fascinating to watch.

2. Miami, playing favorites all over again

The Heat don't do this very well. The team, especially in its second-year incarnation, has only played its best when either behind or faced with talk of impending elimination against the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and, in a way, these Thunder. Kevin Durant's fourth-quarter play in Game 1, mixed with LeBron James' "struggles" down the stretch even had some who had picked the Thunder in six or seven games thinking sweep with this series, and yet the Heat roared back to convincingly take Game 3 and the home-court advantage in one significant (and impressive) swoop.

And now what? Besides those damned expectations.

The Heat are ahead, the should-be favorites considering they've now turned this into a five-game series with three to play in Miami. And though we're not particularly enjoying pretending to be inside this team's collective head, the postseason results (and iffy play while working from ahead) speaks for itself. None of this will matter, though, if the Heat's offense returns to quick cuts, quick shots before the Thunder defense realizes that it only has a few players to guard.

[Marc J. Spears: Chris Bosh's return to starting lineup boosts Heat]

If Miami works with a speedy touch, which would have nothing to do with transition run-outs, the lead should hold. Of course, the last thing the Heat appear to want to hear about is what they "should" do.

3. 2-3-2 to 4-1

We know the history behind the 2-3-2 format. That in 27 years only five teams (two home squads and three road teams usually working with a distinct advantage after a close home loss in the opening two contests) have swept the middle three. We know, as sportswriters like yours truly endlessly tell you, that it's incredibly tough to beat any team three games in a row, much less a great team that is matched quite well up against your talent level.

That doesn't mean it can't happen. And this doesn't mean that the Miami Heat, after keeping things close early and attacking with passion and (most importantly to me) fearlessness in a way that doesn't translate to a home run three-pointer in the fourth quarter, can't pull out three close wins in a row. This is quite do-able, should Miami's focus stay on one contest at a time, and not the series at a whole. Plenty of clichés in that last paragraph? You bet. You also know they're right, though.

This is an evenly matched series that I still believe will go the distance in spite of the 2-3-2 format. Evenly matched series can also end after four or five close games, though, with a batch of close wins belying the eventual 4-0 or 4-1 final tally. The Heat probably won't pull off a run like that, but they could. You know they could.

Two games in, these Finals appear to be more fascinating than the killer series most of us predicted. That's a happenin' thing, and we're giddy at the prospects of seeing you back here on Tuesday, with four things to chew on about Game 4.

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