2012 NBA Finals Preview (Keys to the Series)

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Offensive Keys (Thunder):

IF the Heat trap the High Pick and Roll on Russell Westbrook (which is likely), his decision making will need to be solid.  Westbrook will need to find his spot up shooters and limit his turnovers.  The Heat will most likely try to gear their defense to force Westbrook into “decision making” mode, and he will need top be solid for the Thunder to win.  The Thunder will need to limit turnovers and use Derek Fisher in a reserve role as a spot up shooter.  Fisher as the point guard, would attract Heat defensive pressure, which could delay possessions and cause stagnation.  James Harden as the main ball handler of the second unit is OKC’s best bet.  The Thunder are a face up team, so it will be imperative for them to see where double teams will come from and adjust accordingly.  Serge Ibaka’s 15 foot baseline jumper will be key in getting the Heat to honor him.  The Thunder will be best served when they force the Heat to defend several players, instead of focusing on one hero ball driven Iso machine.  Ball Movement and strong screens is what will keep the OKC offense afloat versus Miami.  Miami will risk leaving spot up shooters open if it means that they deter paint attacks, so “trust” will be the overriding key for the Thunder offense.  Above all else, the Thunder will need to screen Kevin Durant’s man when he runs through the Key to gain position.  They need to gain him clean touches.

Defensive Keys (Heat):

The Heat has had success in containing Russell Westbrook, and they need to continue this trend in order to be successful.  Westbrook is not a consistent decision maker and the Heat must force him to play mechanically and without freedom.  If the Heat trap him high, they have to push up hard to force him wide if he decides to beat it.  That alone can delay the OKC offense, and can lead to winning Heat defensive possessions.  On Kevin Durant, the Heat will need to be physical with their bigs.  Durant will try to run the baseline to pop up in the high post and reverse the floor.  It will be imperative for the Heat bigs to “delay” his forays into the paint.  Fronting techniques won’t work on Durant, but overrunning him to deny the ball will.  Delay is the operative word.  You delay OKC’s offense, it devolves into an Isolation driven endeavor, which plays right into the Heat’s hands.  James Harden loves his left hand.  Guard him that way.  It will be imperative to use quick defenders on Harden and always go over the screen.  Harden is on fire from three this postseason and he plays with a special freedom as the leader of OKC’s second unit.  It would not be the worst strategy to trap and live with the consequences of OKC spot up shooting.  Harden is a much more adept passer than Westbrook, and has a great handle.  I would not be opposed to using Lebron James for long stretches on him if Shane Battier is doing an adequate job at ball denial on Kevin Durant.  Contact, and making the Thunder “feel” you is gonna be the biggest key.

Offensive Keys (Heat):

There are two OKC Thunder’s.  The “big” Thunder that employs Ibaka and Perkins, and the “small” Thunder that plays Kevin Durant at Power Forward for long stretches.  Chris Bosh will be key to attacking both.  The Heat side pick and roll paid some dividends versus David West in round two, and then made a brief appearance versus Kevin Garnett and put him in absolute jail.  Bosh’s spot up int eh corner while running the Pick and Roll with Garnett’s man caused all types of issues in Game 7.  OKC will try to defend that much the same way with Serge Ibaka.  They will insist on keeping him as close to the basket as possible.  The Heat must punish him.  If OKC adjusts with a smaller lineup, they need to attack the paint relentlessly and keep the High Pick and Roll as high as possible to try to gain as much separation and force OKC to foul with their bigs.  A Serge Ibaka in foul trouble will be a welcomed sight for Heat rim attackers and put a giant “welcome” sign over the basket.  When Ibaka goes tot eh bench, things simplify for the Heat and they can play with much more freedom.  Semi transition will be key on Westbrook missed jumpers.  He tends to follow his shot some, so this will need to be recognized, to get passes out as quickly as possible, to gain easy baskets.  The Thunder with Kendrick Perkins are a poor pick and roll defending team, so they have sought to hide him by having him double team the ball on some, and on others bailing on the screen in full retreat to the paint.  This is done to induce mid range shooting.  Don’t settle.  Keep attacking.  Perkins fouls incessantly.  The floater from Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, and Lebron James will make it’s return in this series.  Isolation offense will be key if OKC begins to switch on defense.  It is conceivable that OKC won’t mind switching with Ibaka on Lebron.  Attack.  Gain fouls on OKC’s most important defensive player.  The Thunder are stout on the ball in isolation, but don’t do well with screens.  Screen and re-screen to gain space to make runs at the bigs.  That is the key to successful offense versus OKC.

Defensive Keys (Thunder):

Use a combination of Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook on Dwyane Wade and allow room on the pick and roll.  Wade has not looked to take the jumper as of late, so any attempt at cutting the space between you and Wade will end with a blow by.  If he gets hot from the outside, it is just something you must live with.  Pressuring the ball on Mario Chalmers is a double edged sword.  Although it can result in turnovers and transition baskets, it can also lead to him giving the ball up to James or Wade and then running you off of screens to gain his spot up shot, which is the Heat at it’s most dangerous.  If his shot is on, it is lights out.  A more honest approach is best and recognition of who joins him on pick and rolls is key.  Chalmers has sought to drive to the basket much more in these playoffs.  Guard him accordingly.   OKC has the perfect guy to do this in Westbrook.  That should be the most predictable matchup.  Chris Bosh will be an outlet on most sets for the Heat, but he rarely rolls on the high pick & roll, unless they are run with the Two Heat point guards in Chalmers / Cole.  The Heat will attempt alot of offense that will be geared toward drawing Serge Ibaka out of position to defend the paint.  The Thunder will need to communicate well on these instances in order to switch and keep Ibaka in position to help on Heat drives to the basket.  The Thunder have the athletes to switch on defense and play zone, so they will have to employ some “tricky” defenses to break the Heat’s offensive rhythm.  The Heat are very adept at crashing the boards with Wade and James, so you must find both when shots go up while putting bodies on them.  Defend with speed over physicality.  Be quick and induce jump shots.  The Heat in a paint attack rhythm is a nightmare.

Enjoy the NBA Finals.

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