What to look for when the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder tip off tonight.
The NBA Finals tip off tonight when the Miami Heat meet the Thunder in Oklahoma City. You already know the big story of the series—the rivalry between LeBron James and Kevin Durant that could power the league for a decade. But there's more to this series than a mano-a-mano battle between the two biggest stars, and we've got a few of the more interesting storylines and subplots.
Chris Bosh's Stomach
Bosh's return from an abdominal strain was the difference for Miami against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. Without those 19 points and eight boards in Game 7 against the Celts, the Heat would be golfing right now. And Boston is, like, really old. OKC, on the other hand, is young. They are also hungry, rested, and ready after shutting down the Spurs—who had been the hottest team in the league. For Miami to overcome the young OKC, Bosh must score in double-digits—with Kendrick Perkins hanging on him. On defense, Bosh will have to keep a lid on the Thunder's 22-year-old power forward, Serge Ibaka. Heat fans better hope he has the stomach for it.
The Cultural Fault Line
The league office might have preferred to have Boston and L.A. in the Finals. Then again, the league office would prefer that the Knicks didn't stink. The rest of America, though, will find the Miami and Oklahoma City match-up feels familiar—nicely encapsulating the country's coastal-vs.-heartland cultural divide.
A fan couldn't ask for two more starkly contrasted cities. Miami is flashy, steamy, neon-soaked—the multicultural, cosmopolitan capital of the Caribbean. Oklahoma City is the down-home heartland, whiter than a mayonnaise-and-ranch-dressing sandwich, famous mostly for being in a state the Joad family left.
Then again, Miami is famous for having the country's worst fans. They're so bad that, after signing Bosh and James, the Heat had a PR campaign called "FanUp" that was basically a primer on being a fan—including tips like "be on time" and "wear team colors."
The way each team was assembled reflects the coast-vs-heartland narrative beautifully, too. Miami brought James and forward Chris Bosh to Florida with a splashy, pushy, high-dollar free agency campaign, loudly promising lots of rings. The Thunder's "Big Three"—Durant, Russel Westbrook, and James Harden—were all homegrown. That is, drafted when the team was in Seattle, called the Sonics, and awful.
Coaching Match-Up: Miami's Erik Spoelstra vs. Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks
Um...I said I was going to talk about interesting storylines. These two guys have all the personality of dryer lint.
Dwyane Wade's Slow Starts
Long ago, Wade was Flash to Shaq's Superman. In the first halves of the games against Boston, he was more like the Invisible Man. Wade shot only 28 percent, averaging of 6.3 points before the intermission. His game is built on driving to the hoop, taking hard shots, harder fouls, and often kissing hardwood, and those old bones probably just need a while to warm up. Against the Thunder, he'll have to heat up, pun intended, or Miami could be in trouble.
NBA Players Looking Like Steve Urkel
Gone are the days when the NBA's best-dressed wore elegantly tailored suits. Or even cheesy, shiny ones. Today's fashionable hoopster embraces an exaggerated nerd chic. LeBron loves donning thick, horned-rimmed glasses he doesn't need. Kevin Durant will wear sweater vests or cardigans, and likes to carry a schoolboy backpack. Thunder guard Russel Westbrook hasmade an art, and a PR strategy, out of wearing shirts so ugly they clash with themselves—usually looks like he should be running the A/V club at local junior high.
The 37-year-old Thunder guard is the Lonnie Smith of the hardwood. Like the Reagan-era baseball journeyman, Derek "0.4" Fisher is one of those guys that could get on the wrong bus and end up in the playoffs. Now Fisher could be ready to win his sixth ring. Maybe he'll put it on his middle finger to salute Kobe Bryant who says he wants Fisher back with the Lakers.
Finally, of course, the only match up that really matters: The Jayhawk Factor. Granted, this only matters if you filter the whole universe of hoops through the lens of University of Kansas basketball. But, um... I do that. So let me break it down. Mario Chalmers starts at point guard for the Heat, while Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich only come off the bench for Oklahoma City. Nevertheless, two Jayhawks are better than one. Thunder in six.