It’s officially game on for the NBA Finals tonight, as the two best teams representing each the Western and Eastern Conferences, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, prepare to clash for a 7-game series starting tonight in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with a Game 1 tip-off set for 9:00 PM ET at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. With two of the most exciting teams in the NBA making the big dance this year, expect record ratings for the series, and record levels of excitement from Game 1 out, and great options for online sports betting at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed at CR.
For the Miami Heat, their series with the Boston Celtics was anything but easy going, though with the return of Chris Bosh into the line-up, the Heat’s destiny seemed to fall into place as they ripped through the Celtics in Game 6 by 19 points, and closed out at home with a dominant fourth quarter of play and a 17-4 run to win 101-88. Chris Bosh certainly was a key factor in both those games, helping to restrain Kevin Garnett and the Celtics’ 4’s and 5’s, on the way towards the Heat holding Boston to under 90 points per game while the offense had little trouble producing north of 98 points in the last two outings. Heading into this match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder however, who are by far a more offensively dominant team than the Celtics were, Miami’s attention will have to be on a similar level of great defense, with Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers getting a very different type of challenge than the one faced against an ageing Boston team. Oklahoma City has arguably one of the best players in the league in Kevin Durant, who will be able to match LeBron James’ scoring output straight up in the first playoff meeting between the NBA’s regular season scoring champ (Durant) and the NBA’s MVP (James) since 1997. OKC also has one of the league’s top guards in Russell Westbrook who matches up very well against Dwayne Wade (21.7 ppg in the playoffs vs. 22.9 respectively. Add in a dose of James Harden, the league’s sixth man of the year who has averaged 17.6 points/game in the 2012 playoffs, and you’ve got a serious challenge to the Heat’s Big Three in this series on both sides of the floor.
With the Oklahoma City Thunder taking home court advantage in this series, it’s essential for them to find a way to continue their impressive offensive attack, which averaged 106 points per game against the San Antonio Spurs and has put up 102.6 points per game at home during this playoff run. While the Thunder certainly aren’t the best defensive team in this NBA Finals matchup, they arguably do have the faster, more talented shooting offense, led by a combined playoff production of 67.1 points/game from Durant, Westbrook and Harden. With so much emphasis on their Big Three, OKC must come out of the gates with these three players shooting well, and take control of the offensive pace from the early going. Also, while its essential to get production out of their stars in the line-up, once again a big effort from one of the Thunders’ less notable players could come in very handy, especially around the basket. Neither the Heat nor the Thunder have been hugely productive at the 4 and 5 position in the NBA playoffs thus far, operating with smaller, quicker line-ups that are able to penetrate the lanes from the perimeter, but for this match-up with very similar styled teams, it’s going to be interesting to see which side can get a bump-up in contribution in and around the paint. For the Thunder, it has to be Serge Ibaka, who has shown flashes of brilliance during the OKC run, including a 26 point, 11-for-11 shooting night which was crucial towards the Thunder evening out the series with San Antonio. He, alongside Kendrick Perkins, will be tasked with control the area around the basket against Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and the penetrating efforts of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, so offensive production aside, look for these two Thunder big men to be extremely important from the get-go in this series.
While we know all too well that LeBron James is capable of carrying his team when they need him, the Miami Heat as well have to push some more emphasis on someone not named James or Wade, and get some step up play around the hoop in this well-balanced series to come with the OKC Thunder. These two teams are incredibly well matched in terms of size and scoring ability, and for the playoffs they are nearly dead even in rebounding (40.5 per game for the Heat, 40.3 for the Thunder) and assists (17.3 for the Heat vs. 18.7 for the Thunder) as well. With the Thunder accumulating nearly 6 more points of scoring per game however, and evidently able to score on any defense that is put up against them, Miami then too has to have big contributions from someone outside their Big Three on a consistent basis. That points to two players; Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers has slowed his shot taking working from the point guard position, and although his efforts weren’t necessarily required in Games 6 and 7 against Boston (scoring 9 points in each), he’ll need to be focused on getting over the double-figure hump to provide some extra juice for the Miami bottom line. He’s had break-out games in each of the playoff series thus far, and is more than capable of putting up close to 20 points per game, though often takes a backseat role as distributor when he’s not shooting well. To get the Heat out on the right foot Chalmers needs to come out with some good shooting looks, attack the basket, and provide solid numbers in Game 1. For Udonis Haslem, while he certainly matters most on the defensive end in this series, he too must step up in the paint to help out Chris Bosh on offense, and be the big man on the rebounds. He’s capable of double-double performances, and to get the Heat off to a great start, he’s a key player that must over-perform tonight.
Betting Lines for NBA Finals Game 1, Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat at Oddsmaker Sportsbook.
With the Thunder so dominant at home in this year’s playoffs, they’ll get the nod as favorites on the betting lines across the top online sportsbooks reviewed here at CR. At Oddsmaker Sportsbook in particular, the Thunder will be put down as -220 favorites to win straight up, with the Miami Heat getting attractive odds for underdog pickers at +180. ]
Against the Spread, the Thunder will take a 5-point advantage, needing to cover that margin in order to earn spread pickers -110 odds. The Heat will get 5 points to play with as underdogs, which again may be awfully tempting considering the Heat’s recent road domination against Boston in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals just a week ago.
For the over/under, get set for a wild ride with two high-scoring teams capable of putting up big points. The total points line seems a bit conservative for Game 1, with 195.5 points being the mark, which is about 3 points under the combined total output for both sides during this year’s playoffs. We’re looking for the pace to be hot, and for at least one of these teams to clip the century mark and the way to a break out of the over total points wager. We’ll certainly be interested to see whether defense plays a bigger part in this series than expected, but with the amount of points being scored at OKC over the last series with San Antonio, be on the look out for a very prolific scoring night.