Will the Heat Wrap it Up?
MIAMI TRIES TO FINISH OFF OKLAHOMA CITY IN FIVE
There's still time for the Oklahoma City Thunder to rally from a 3-1 series deficit and defeat the Miami Heat for the 2012 NBA Championship. The problem is...you get the sense that they've already thrown everything including the kitchen sink at the Heat...and they still haven't gotten over the top since their Game One victory.
And, that victory came when they had their biggest rest advantage of the series. Miami had just come off a seven-game series with Boston while Oklahoma City was resting and preparing for the Finals. Once OKC started taking some body shots...they played like a team that gets tired from body shots.
Kevin Durant hasn't exactly disappeared. But, he's not anywhere near the dynamic force he was before. You can tell that LeBron James muscling him has taken some of his fight away. The shots aren't falling like they used to. He's not flying to the rim with reckless abandon the way he used to either. Basketball hurts when you play a physical team that's trying to win a championship. Durant is feeling the effects of that...and it's not like he's going to have a great chance to freshen up any time soon.
James Harden had a fantastic first half in Game Two, but has otherwise been a negative rather than a positive. His poor shooting and poor decision-making were troublesome in both losses in Miami. By the end of Game Four, he was literally afraid to shoot even when he was wide open. The swagger is gone. The beard is even starting to look scraggly.
Russell Westbrook is a fitness machine...which is part of the reason he became the go-to-guy in such dramatic fashion in Game Four. He still had his legs left. While his teammates were hitting a wall, and the opposing defense was showing signs of fatigue...he just kept flying at the basket and scoring points. It was a site to behold. But, the Thunder still trailed most of the second half and lost the game. He was flailing in a come-from-behind effort rather than carrying his team to the winner's circle. And, even Westbrook started wearing down in the final moments, particularly in terms of the mental side of things.
Perhaps most striking in the energy department is how slowly the ball is moving for the Thunder offense. Even though you hear Coach Brooks talking about making the extra pass in interviews or in huddles during timeouts...and you hear Derek Fisher saying the same thing in pre-game pep talks...the team isn't actually making very many passes. Oklahoma City only had 13 assists in Game Four, representing a very low percentage of their 40 made baskets. The "ball" isn't fatigued. But, the lack of ball movement sure represents a tired or physically drained team.
If Oklahoma City is going to win on the road Thursday Night and keep their hopes alive, they must do the following:
Go back to the ball movement offense that worked so well against San Antonio. Remember when Serge Ibaka was getting jump shots? Remember when Thabo Sefalosha was getting repeated looks at treys? Remember when Westbrook would drive, draw a double-team, then pass it to the open shooter? That was at the heart of the four straight wins vs. the Spurs. That approach worked for Dallas last year. Oklahoma City has to embrace team play on offense or they're very unlikely to rally vs. this Heat defense.
Re-emphasize toughness on defense. It's like Oklahoma City got so afraid of ticky-tack foul calls that they backed off too much. They allowed 53% shooting on two-point baskets Tuesday Night. And, gave so much space on three-pointers that the Heat were able to drain TEN of them. So...they stopped running into three-point shooters and giving them foul shots...but they just let the guy make the shot anyway. Game Four was far and away the worst defensive effort of the series for the Thunder (points allowed 94-100-91-104 in sequence).
Keep pushing the pace so the older guys on Miami wear down more. Dwyane Wade now has a sore back to go with his balky knee. LeBron James started cramping up late in Game Four because he's been working so hard on both ends of the floor. Keep making him work! Oklahoma City won fast break points 24-4 in the series opener. Since then they're only up two points with a combined 40-38 advantage in transition. BOTH teams should be tired by now. OKC's fatigue hurts them most in the halfcourt game. Miami's should hurt them in terms of chasing shooters on defense based on what we've seen in their losses since the big three were put together.
Handicapping Game Five means determining whether or not the Thunder are going to do what we've outlined. JIM HURLEY is working very closely with his sources and scouts to find out what he can about adjustments. If OKC isn't going to make them...Miami offers clear value at a line of -3 because they just won by 4-6-6 in the last three games. If OKC does make the right choices, they're going to win this game outright and send the series back to Oklahoma for Game Six.
OKLAHOMA CITY vs. MIAMI
Game Five Vegas Line: Miami by 3, total of 193.5
Miami leads 3-1
This game opened at Miami by 3.5, and has been shuttling back and forth between 3.5 and 3 since then. Oklahoma City money likes the +3.5...but there is Miami support at -3. Some sharps who liked OKC before the series have jumped ship.
The total edged back up a bit after Game Four went Over. The actual scoreboard totals have been 199, 196, 176, and 202 without any overtimes. Miami scores so well in the halfcourt game that the playoff tradition of Over/Unders dying later in a series hasn't applied to their games of late.
GAME FOUR SUMMARY - MIAMI 104, OKLAHOMA CITY 98
Field Goal Pct: Oklahoma City 49%, Miami 48%
Three-Pointers: Oklahoma City 3/16, Miami 10/26
Free Throws: Oklahoma City 15/16, Miami 18/25
Rebounds: Oklahoma City 35, Miami 40
Turnovers: Oklahoma City 11, Miami 9
Vegas Line: Miami by 3.5, total of 193
Not exactly a defensive struggle. But, you still see elements of "defense and rebounding wins championships" in the fact that Miami won rebounding, forced more turnovers, and did a better job of shutting down what was happening at the arc. Both teams scored well inside, a credit to the collection of weaponry on display. Miami only allowed three treys all night. You can't give them credit for a great defensive effort the way Westbrook was scoring on them. On the whole, they did get the best of it defensively though. Miami has won rebounding the last three games, and has also posted the better three-point percentage in all of their wins.
Will the Heat wrap it up tonight? The man with the answer is JIM HURLEY! You can purchase tonight's basketball here at the website a few hours before tipoff. Check the ad boxes and "buy picks" pulldown for details on whether it will be just a team side, or a side and a total. Don't forget to take care of business EARLY on Thursday just in case there's a day baseball play. St. Louis/Detroit and LA Dodgers/Oakland are both afternoon starts.
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The 2012 NBA Championship may be decided tonight. WHEN CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ON THE LINE, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!
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