One NBA team will be the champions

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Tupac or Biggie? Peanut butter or jelly? Natalie Portman or Mila Kunis? These are just a few of today’s most debatable topics. 

For the next two months you can add the Miami Heat or the Oklahoma City Thunder to that list. This year’s championship should fall into the hands of one of these juggernauts. But which one?

I’m here to tell you why the Thunder will bring home the hardware this year. 

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NBA champion: Oklahoma City Thunder

There are plenty of similarities between the two squads: each team boasts two studs and a third wheel who would be the first option on many lesser teams. What separates the Thunder is their gritty and often overlooked big men. 

On the back of Serge Ibaka’s league leading 3.6 blocks per game, the Thunder are easily the best in the league at defending the rim. Oklahoma City is also the fifth best rebounding team in the NBA. The Heat are currently 21st and ninth in blocks and rebounds, respectively.

Against a team that features two of the best slashers in the league, the presence of Perkins and Ibaka can’t be overlooked. How often and effectively LeBron and Wade attack the basket could be limited by Ibaka’s shot-blocking prowess and Kendrick Perkins’ tendency to put a body on anyone trying to net an easy bucket. 

As for Miami, their best shot-blocker is shooting guard Dwyane Wade with 1.4 blocks per game. 

My friend Will may point out that the Heat are arguably the most gifted and deepest team in the NBA. 

I will concede that the Heat’s best game would probably beat any other team’s best game, but far too often the Heat are caught without best effort. Combine that with their tendency of coming up short in close games, and you have Miami’s Achilles’ heel. Potential means nothing if not acted upon. 

In overtime games this season, the Heat are 2-4. In games where their opponent scored 100 points – which more often than not brings a competitive game for high scoring teams like these – the Heat are 5-10. Comparatively, the Thunder are 11-10 when their opponent reaches the century mark.  

I’ll be the first to admit that LeBron James’ fourth-quarter struggles are overblown. There are plenty of successes to go along with his failures. Twenty-five straight points to close out a playoff win in Detroit serves as example number one. 

With that said, one thing LeBron consistently comes up short with is pressure free throw shooting. 

Just last week the Heat lost to the Bulls in overtime despite a two-point lead with only seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. LeBron went to the line and made just one of his two free throws, CJ Watson proceeded to nail a huge three, and the Heat crumbled in the overtime period. The Bulls team they faced in the extra period featured CJ Watson, Taj Gibson and Omar Asik the entire five minutes. 

After Rajon Rondo made a mockery of Mario Chalmers’ on-ball defense earlier this month, I think the Heat’s best chance if they meet the Thunder would be to go with an unorthodox lineup featuring no point guard, as well as only one big man. Joel Anthony and Ronnie Turiaf are not championship quality centers. 

If LeBron and Wade took control of the ball handling duties, it would eliminate the Thunder’s height and talent advantage at point guard. If the Heat inserted Shane Battier as their power forward, pushing Bosh to the center, it would force Ibaka and Perkins away from the basket and create space in the lane. 

Offensively, Ibaka and Perkins aren’t back-to-the-basket threats, so the only downside becomes rebounding. What’s more likely is that Udonis Haslem’s role would increase with his mid-range game. I suppose this point is moot because as far as I know, Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley don’t read my columns. 

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Dark horse: Boston Celtics

If I were betting on a squad outside of the top two seeds in either conference, my dark horse would be the Boston Celtics. Trying to play an up-tempo game with the Heat or Thunder is not advised. Boston’s methodical half-court offense, which resulted in the league’s best mark for assists, would be the ideal way to combat the highflying styles of Miami and Oklahoma City. 

The Celtics beat the Heat rather convincingly in their two recent matchups and play Miami once more before the season is over. With the emergence of Avery Bradley and the assumption that Ray Allen will be healthy come playoff time, it seems possible that Boston could upset Miami. 

Unfortunately, that opportunity may not come if they can’t get past the Bulls, who they are currently slated to play in the second round. Against one of the league’s worst rebounding teams, Joakim Noah and company would have a fiesta on the offensive glass. 

To sum up, I believe the Thunder big men will be the difference in a potential championship showdown. On paper, a Heat vs. Thunder title series would be one of the most exciting matchups in recent memory. It would serve as the launching point for an OKC dynasty, or mark the monkey removal from LeBron’s back. We will have to wait and see. 

Until then, I encourage you toss around the Heat or Thunder discussion with your occasional – or maybe not so occasional – Mila vs. Natalie debates. I think after careful consideration you’ll find that Natalie, like the Thunder, emerges as the best option.