Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are one of the NBA's best 1-2 punches.
The Miami Heat haven't exactly been a model for consistent play of late, but have been able to ‘turn it on' enough to keep the wins coming for the majority of their games. That kind of effort probably isn't going to cut it tonight though. In a game that has been highly anticipated by Heat and NBA alike fans for quite a while, Miami heads to Oklahoma City for a matchup the 1st place Thunder.
What some people are calling a probable NBA Finals preview, the Heat and Thunder are thought of by most as best teams in the league. Oklahoma City is filling their end of the bargain, holding the top record in the Western Conference and leading 2nd place San Antonio by three games. If they can hold on to 1st place for the remainder of the season, they'll earn home-court advantage throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs.
If all goes well for both teams, and they do end up meeting in the NBA Finals, the team that finishes with a better regular-season record will have home-court advantage in the Finals. As it stands right now, even though the Heat are in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, they are percentage points better then the Thunder in the standings and would host the first two games of the Finals.
Of course each team still has a ways to go before reaching that point. The Thunder started the season losing just 7 of their first 36 games, but they have been stumbling a bit lately, going just 5-4 in their last 9 contests. Miami has won four straight games but are entering an extremely challenging part of their schedule that will really show what this team is made of.
Starting tonight in Oklahoma City, the Heat will be playing a lot of potential playoff teams over the next few weeks. Of Miami's next 11 opponents, 9 of them are teams that are currently in a playoff spot, with all nine holding an above .500 record. It's the kind of stretch in a schedule that allows a team to really show what their made of, and that's exactly what we'll be able to see as the Heat work their way through these games.
The last thing I want to mention heading into this game is that it features some of the best shot-blockers in the league. There is as good of a chance that we'll see a high-scoring game as we will a low-scoring game, but odds are we'll see a good amount of blocked shots with all the ball-swatters playing in this matchup.
We already know how good Joel Anthony, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are at blocking shots, but the Thunder's Serge Ibaka is in a league of his own. If you take the total amount of blocks that LeBron (39), Wade (47) and Joel (61) have this season and combine them, that total (147) still isn't as many as Ibaka has on his own (160).
- Miami is 15-9 on the road. The Thunder are 21-4 at home.
- The Heat have lost 3 of their last 4 games against Oklahoma City, though they did win their last visit to OKC, 108-103 last season.
- Over their last 8 games, the Thunder are averaging 112.1 points on 50.5% shooting.
- Miami gave up just 73 points to the Pistons in their last outing, the lowest total a team has scored against the Heat this season.
- The Thunder meanwhile scored 149 points in their double overtime win over the Timberwolves on Friday.
- Russell Westbrook scored 45 points and Kevin Durant scored 40 in the win.
- Durant is averaging 32.2 points over his last 5 games against the Heat.
- Serge Ibaka leads the NBA in blocked shots, averaging 3.33 per game. The next highest total isn't even close to Ibaka; JaVale McGee averages 2.47 per game.
- Mike Miller (ankle) remains out for the Heat.
- As for the Thunder, guards Eric Maynor (knee) and Daequan Cook (knee) are out.
Tipoff from the Chesapeake Energy Arena is set for 8pm. The game will be broadcast locally on Sun Sports and nationally on ESPN.