With Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison manning the post, the Thunder are devoid of a post player who can give the team consistent points in paint.
Though a lot of teams in today’s NBA have that same issue, a post scorer is a requisite for beating the Heat four out of seven times.
As currently constructed, the Thunder rely on Durant and Westbrook to beat defenders and score in one-on-one situations. Against most competition, Durant and Westbrook have a strength and/or athleticism advantage.
The Heat, though, are the exception, and until the Thunder find reliable scoring in the post, they will continue to struggle against James and the offense that has been built around him.
Though the Heat have looked very vulnerable at times, they are a different team when motivated and engaged—like they were on Thursday night.
Despite their ability to score, James, Wade and Chris Bosh all willingly share the ball, there’s no “I” in “Heat.”
With about four minutes remaining in Thursday night’s game, the Thunder cut the deficit to 11 points on a running one-footer by Kevin Durant.
On the ensuing possession, the Thunder badly needed a stop. James had the ball with Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh spread around the perimeter. Once he drove and the the defense collapsed, James happily found Battier for a wide open corner 3-pointer, which he hit. The lead was pushed back to 14 points and helped the Heat withstand a late Thunder rally.
That sequence is a microcosm of the Heat’s success.
James, as talented and as gifted as he is, happily facilitates and sets up looks for his teammates. Despite scoring 35 points on 12-of-22 shooting to that point, he passed on one of the game’s most pivotal possessions.
And just like Game 5 of last year’s NBA Finals, his teammate—Battier in this instance—came through for him.
With five players shooting at least 40 percent from 3-point territory and another two shooting better than 35 percent, the Heat have an almost unbeatable combination of one-on-one scoring, athleticism and perimeter shooting.
The team’s achilles heel continues to be its size, and if the Thunder want to have a realistic chance of beating the Heat in a seven game series, that’s something they will have to be able to take advantage of.
If they can’t, the least Brooks should do is run a more imaginative offense. Serge Ibaka is agile and mobile and happens to have good range. Against the Heat, he should get more than the six shots he got on Thursday night.
At this point, though, Brooks would be better served focusing on the second half of the season. The Thunder, obviously, may not see the Heat again anytime soon.
That is, of course, unless it’s in the 2013 NBA Finals.
But after losing to the Heat six consecutive times, all of them on national TV, none of the Thunder players who spoke with the media seemed to be too concerned about continually coming up short against the team they will probably have to defeat to win an NBA title.
Westbrook is correct, this isn’t a rivalry, but that doesn’t mean that the Thunder shouldn’t want to beat the Heat. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the Thunder should play and act as if they don’t belong on the same court as them.
Sure, it was just one game. But as a team with championship aspirations, the Thunder expect to contend for the Western Conference crown and hope to represent it in the NBA Finals once again.
Unfortunately, based on the way things have gone lately, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are both probably hoping for the same thing.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton
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