Column: Miami and OKC square off for potential Finals preview
Tonight LeBron James and the Miami Heat will take on Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game that will be a possible NBA Finals preview. This nationally televised matchup will also be an opportunity for Durant and James to kick-start their case for MVP in the second half of the season.
Although Miami tends to downplay regular season games, the Heat cannot deny that this game would be a statement for whichever team that wins. Oklahoma City has the best record in the NBA, which includes a 17-point victory in Miami where Durant scored 33 points. The Thunder own the best record in the league despite Russell Westbrook not playing a game since Christmas Day. With Westbrook rumored to be back in the lineup tonight, there is no denying that the Thunder are a force that Miami should be taking seriously.
Westbrook's return to the lineup also makes for an interesting storyline because most critics of Oklahoma City claim that Durant is better without Westbrook in the lineup, which simply is not the case. Sure, Durant can put up monster stats when he is the only star on the court but Westbrook is one of the premier point guards in the league and has shown that he is an offensive threat that teams must respect and think about.
Westbrook's ability to handle the ball can give other teams problems. They have to respect his ability to take the ball to the basket, which allows him to dish to Durant in spots where he wants to get the ball. Yes, Westbrook will often take more shots than the "traditional" point guard, but his style of play fits exactly with what Oklahoma City is trying to accomplish.
For the Heat to win this game they will have to do a better job from behind the arc than they did the first matchup. Miami shot an abysmal 3 for 19 from 3, which is a recipe for defeat on any night with this team. Meanwhile the Thunder shot an impressive 16 for 27 in the game. You can expect a much better defensive effort from the defending champs this time around and ultimately a closer game.
This game may not come down to the back and forth battle between Durant and James that we are all hoping for, but you can believe that both players are going to want to win this one badly.
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