The season started with 30 teams, got whittled down to 16 and now there are two — the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, set to begin the NBA finals on Tuesday night.
LeBron James in his third finals. Kevin Durant in his first. One superstar set to get his first ring.
It has the makings of a classic. So with Game 1 on tap, here's 10 questions and answers about this title matchup:
WHO'S BETTER, JAMES OR DURANT? Flip a coin. Kevin Durant is a three-time scoring champion. LeBron James is a three-time MVP. And this series probably won't decide if one individual player is better than the other, either. They'll be matched up against each other at times in this series, and everyone wants to see the 1-on-1 fireworks. Sounds like the only people not wrapped up in the whole KD vs. LBJ matchup are, well, KD and LBJ. "It's the Thunder vs. the Heat," Durant said.
CAN LEBRON SILENCE HIS CRITICS WITH A WIN? Not all of them. Look, no matter what James does — wins a championship, wins a Nobel Peace Prize, never wins another game in his life — he won't silence everybody. He will get plenty of credit if the Heat win this title, and rightly so. It also could be a relive-the-nightmare scenario for Cleveland. It was hard enough for Cavaliers fans to watch James leave. Just imagine how hard it'll be for them if James hoists the championship trophy wearing another city's uniform.
ARE THE THUNDER READY FOR THIS? Sure. Same could have been asked about Miami in 2006, when yes, the Heat had veterans like Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Williams and Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning and Antoine Walker. But the guy who made the Heat go in that championship season was Dwyane Wade, who was 24 when he carried Miami to the title. Kevin Durant is 23. Russell Westbrook is 23. No, neither has been on this stage before. But they handled being down 0-2 to San Antonio. That's proof enough of what they're capable of doing at this time of year. "We're not here just to be here. We're here to win a championship," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
WHO HAS THE BETTER SIXTH MAN? Well, that's an easy one, since Oklahoma City's James Harden is the premier sixth man in the NBA right now. But it may not be as one-sided as many would think if Miami continues using Chris Bosh off the bench. Bosh — who missed nine playoff games with a strained lower abdominal muscle and has been a reserve in each of his three appearances since — said last week that he isn't counting on starting again this season, and the Heat have raved about what he's been able to do with the second unit. So Harden may have some competition after all.
WHAT'S UP WITH THE POSTGAME OUTFITS? The glasses-without-lenses that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been wearing, they're one thing. But seriously, the shirts that Russell Westbrook has been putting on before he goes to postgame news conferences look like they were designed to go with Rodney Dangerfield's pants in "Caddyshack." It's like the postseason has been one long tribute to Steve Urkel or something. The fascinating part of the outfit craze is that Twitter is burning up after games with people trying to figure out where to buy the stuff.
WHY NO TWITTER? LeBron James hasn't tweeted since April 27. Kevin Durant hasn't tweeted since May 1. In a word, it's about focus. Playoffs are hard enough without distractions like 4,784,446 followers — James' total as of Monday afternoon — asking you for a retweet. One of them will tweet in a few days as an NBA champion. That's enough for them.
SHOULD THE BEARD BE FEARED? James Harden has unbelievable amounts of talent. He's best known for his mohawk-and-beard look. And one of the gripping questions entering this finals matchup got an answer Monday, when Harden was asked if he would be sitting down with some clippers at the end of the season. "The beard's going to stay. Win or lose," Harden said.
WHO HAS THE BEST SIDELINE MOM? LeBron, Dwyane, Kevin, Russell, say any of those first names and everyone who'll watch these finals knows exactly who you're talking about. It might not be long before the same can be said about Jolinda and Wanda. Really. Jolinda Wade (Dwyane Wade's mom) and Wanda Pratt (Kevin Durant's mom) will be getting plenty of airtime in this series. The Heat guard always makes a point to hug his mother just before tipoff, and maybe the most compelling image of the Western Conference finals was Durant falling into his mother's arms when the Thunder knew they were going to the title round. (Side note: Those envelopes Heat players were handed after the East finals ended? They were cards from Jolinda Wade.)
WADE VS. WESTBROOK? Assuming that LeBron James and Kevin Durant put up similar numbers in the series, maybe one key element in deciding this title will be how Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook perform. Wade raises his game in the NBA finals, and for whatever reason, Westbrook has struggled against Miami — though that was news to Wade. "Russell Westbrook is what makes them very special," Wade said. Yes, but Westbrook has shot just 30 percent in his last five games against the Heat. If Miami figures out a way to keep him from getting rolling, and if Wade turns in another finals-MVP-type showing, the Heat will have a huge edge.
WHO WILL WIN THE FINALS? Oklahoma City is 8-0 at home in these playoffs, winning by an average of more than 10 points per game. The Thunder got more rest going into the title series, and have a huge head of steam after winning four straight against San Antonio. But the Heat are driven by the pain of losing in the finals last season. And James may be playing at his highest level yet. So in a championship-or-bust season, the Heat ... won't bust. Miami in six.
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds
- Sports & Recreation
- Kevin Durant
- LeBron James
- Dwyane Wade
- Miami Heat
- James Harden
- Russell Westbrook
- Oklahoma City Thunder