Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
In what should be a highly entertaining rematch of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat will host the Oklahoma City Thunder in the centerpiece of the NBA Christmas Day slate of marquee games.
Both teams tweaked their rosters in the offseason, but one thing that hasn't changed since June is that these teams remain the class of the Eastern and Western conferences.
Oklahoma City's 12-game winning streak was snapped by Minnesota last week, but the Thunder have retained their spot as the best in the west despite Harden's departure.
Martin is currently posting career-highs in true shooting percentage (65.2%), effective FG percentage (57.5) and three-point percentage (45.8%).
Durant has continued to cement his spot as the game's best scorer (sorry, Melo) this season. Like Martin, Durant's 2012-13 campaign includes career-highs in true shooting percentage (65.4%), eFG percentage (56.7%) and three-point percentage (42.7%). He's inflicting his usual amount of damage on opposing defenses but on fewer shots. Durant is getting to the foul line over eight times a game, too, and shooting them at a 90 percent clip.
LeBron James hasn't committed a foul during his last 223 minutes of time on the floor (a six-game span), an astonishing accomplishment that has gone largely overlooked. While James is the best defender in the league, I would expect that streak to come to a halt sometime today.
Westbrook is averaging almost nine assists per game and shooting 35 percent from three-point range. The guard has been somewhat erratic at times during his five-year career but aside from his poor shooting from the field this season his numbers are up across the board.
The Heat's current four-game winning streak includes an 18-point average margin of victory, a welcome sight for a team that had a tendency to play down to its competition early in the season. That won't be an issue today, as the Heat know there's a good chance they'll have to go through the Thunder again to repeat as champions. Don't be surprised if this one resembles a Finals game more than a late-December regular-season tilt.
Look for Norris Cole to get a heavy helping of minutes today, as preventing Westbrook's dribble penetration will be imperative for the Heat, who don't want to leave Durant and Martin open on the perimeter. Cole isn't much on the offensive end of the court, but he's played at least 20 minutes in nine of the Heat's last 10 games because he has the foot speed to stay in front of quick guards, an area where Mario Chalmers struggles.
The Thunder have the NBA's most efficient offense and the league's second-highest free throw rate, so keeping Westbrook out of the paint will be a big key to victory today.
I'm skeptical about putting much stock in any regular season game, but today's Finals rematch will be fun regardless. Familiarity breeds contempt, so chippiness should be plentiful at the AAA.