The Thunder opened their playoff run by dispatching the defending NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks in four straight games, while Miami needed five games to get by the New York Knicks. In the second round, when the Heat needed six games to defeat the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City got by the Los Angeles Lakers in five. After falling behind 0-2 in the Western Conference finals, the Thunder won four straight games to eliminate the San Antonio Spurs. In the Eastern Conference finals, Miami was pushed to the brink of elimination before winning Games 6 and 7 against the Boston Celtics to earn their spot in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Three rounds are done and both the Heat and Thunder have completed the first 12 steps of a 16-step process. Both teams are just four wins away from a championship season. So even though the Thunder seemed be a step ahead, the reality of it all is that both Miami and Oklahoma City head into the 2012 NBA Finals four steps away from an NBA title. In the playoffs, where 16-12 is a much better record than 15-4, it doesn't matter how many games you lose. The only thing that matters is how many games you win.
2012 NBA Finals Schedule
Game 1: Tuesday, June 12, Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 2: Thursday, June 14, Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 3: Sunday, June 17, Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat, 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 4: Tuesday, June 19, Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat, 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 5: Thursday, June 21, Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat, 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC (if necessary)
Game 6: Sunday, June 24, Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder, 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC (if necessary)
Game 7: Tuesday, June 26, Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:00 p.m. ET on ABC (if necessary)
The Thunder have not suffered a home loss in the 2012 NBA Playoffs and if they want to keep their home-winning streak intact, they will have to play solid defense. Defending the Miami Heat begins with keeping LeBron James and Dwyane Wade out of the paint. Since James and Wade, who are both dynamic scorers in the open court, get many of their paint points in transition, Oklahoma City must protect the ball and limit its turnovers.
After committing a league-high 16.3 turnovers per game during the regular season, Oklahoma City has reduced that number to 11.5 during the playoffs. The Thunder's ability to protect the ball has led them to the NBA Finals and has helped them score a remarkably efficient 110.1 points per 100 possessions during the postseason.
Defensively, Oklahoma City's perimeter defenders, particularly James Harden, Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha have to force James and Wade to shoot contested jump shots. When James and Wade get by their defenders--and they will--Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka must protect the rim and not give up easy layups and dunks.
If Miami wants to steal home-court advantage from the Thunder, the Heat will have to make things difficult for Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. LeBron James, who will likely be Durant's primary defender, will have to crowd Durant and get into his air space. During the playoffs, Durant is averaging a team-high 2.9 turnovers per game. If James can force Durant into multiple live-ball miscues to ignite Miami's potent transition game, that might help the Heat quiet Oklahoma City's raucous crowd.
The Thunder have a deadly transition game of their own, and the Heat will have to make sure that they sprint back on defense to limit Oklahoma City's fast break opportunities. When the Heat's half-court defense is matched up against the Thunder offense, Miami's perimeter defenders will have to keep Durant, Harden and Westbrook out of the lane to protect the Heat's meager front line from potential foul trouble. When penetration does occur, the Heat will have to close the gaps quickly and force the ball back out to the perimeter. If Oklahoma City gets to the rim consistently, it will be a long night for the Heat.
Behind the dynamic play, penetration and timely shot making of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City will "Thunder Up" and win Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
Mark is a lifelong fan of the NBA who has loved the game of basketball ever since his first trip to an NBA arena. Mark has watched more basketball games than anyone can count and has hundreds of articles about the NBA published on the internet. Mark also shares his random NBA musings and game-by-game predictions on RandomNBAFan.com.
More on the 2012 NBA Playoffs:Oklahoma City Thunder Schedule, Miami Heat Schedule, 2011-12 Postseason NBA Team Stats, Hollinger's NBA Team Stats, and Oklahoma City Thunder 2012 Stats was used for this article.