Last season, the Miami Heat swept the season series with the Oklahoma City Thunder. On Wednesday, their Finals matchup — and rivalry — added another chapter to the books. The Thunder prevailed and even as fans and analysts tried to make this a Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James debate, this was all about team effort. The fact is, there’s a slight chance neither one of these teams will make it back to the Finals. But if they do, which team stands the better chance to get there?
Even though the Heat were picked apart Wednesday, Miami certainly has no problem getting past the Thunder in the Finals — especially with James Harden departed. The Heat are now 20-31 all-time against Oklahoma City with a 8-17 mark in road games. Those are lackluster numbers, but Miami makes it count when it matters, which is why they are two-time champions.
The Heat may have a hard time against the Thunder, but that doesn’t extend to teams within their division. Miami is 103-50 (.673) in the Southeast Division — that’s tied for highest winning percentage in the NBA according to the Elias bureau. With 18 home games remaining, it’s clear Miami will push the pedal and shift into gear heading into the second half of the season, but will it be enough?
The Indiana Pacers continue to look strong and undeterred in their quest to get past Miami in the East. LeBron and company will also have to contend with some teams that are playing much better basketball than the last go-round.
The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks look improved, while the Boston Celtics will benefit from having their star Rajon Rondo back. Those three teams don’t figure to be huge players in the playoff hierarchy, but they could make matters worse for the Heat.
In the West, the Thunder will get Russell Westbrook back from injury sometime after the All-Star Game. The Thunder have managed to keep things together without Westbrook and have now won nine straight with him out of the lineup. At 37-10, the Thunder sit atop the Northwest Division and look to be the marquee team going into the playoff stretch. Adding Westbrook makes them more of lock to win out in the West than any other team.
We thought the Portland Trail Blazers would be serious players, but they look like an easy out come playoff time; meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs will be without Manu Ginobili for the next three to four weeks. With 17 home games left for the Thunder, including a rematch at home against the Heat Feb. 20, you have to figure the Thunder will see less resistance in the West than the Heat will have to contend with.
Whether these two teams will make it back to the Finals is a toss-up, but my money is on the Thunder.