#2 Oklahoma City Thunder
It doesn't get much better than this. The two best players in the game going face to face to determine the NBA champion. Kevin Durant and the Thunder are young and hungry, and in year three of being a playoff team, are hoping their maturation is complete and they are ready to hold the mantle as champions. LeBron James and the Heat are in their second straight NBA Finals. But unlike last season, when they were heavy favorites against the Mavericks, they are looked upon as the underdogs. In a week, many people have shifted from despising James to now saying that they don't find him so bad, and may even actually root for him to capture his first title. I find this quick switch in feelings laughable and remind people that even if you despise LeBron a little less, that douche Dwyane Wade still plays for Miami.
The first focus when people look at matching these teams up is their respective big threes. It isn't by a ton but the Heat have the advantage. If they were to play three on three five teams, the team of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh would beat Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. You could even sub Serge Ibaka in for Harden and the result would be the same. However, as we know, basketball isn't played three on three, and it is the rest of the team that the Thunder have an advantage. I'd take Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, and even ancient Derek Fisher over Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller. If Miller were shooting well I might give the Heat the advantage but he has been ice cold from three, and without that he is useless. Battier has played well defensively and hit some big threes, so his play will be key for Miami's chances. But when the Thunder have Ibaka and Perkins out there on Battier and Bosh, and with Bosh still being somewhat limited due to injury, it will be hard for Battier to get much going. Ibaka is extremely athletic and can guard Battier on the perimeter.
Westbrook figures to dominate Chalmers in the scoring department, and the Heat will likely concede that going in. However, they will be hoping that Chalmers can at least make things tough for Westbrook defensively. Westbrook has a tendency to take way too many shots for someone that a) is a point guard, and b) has the second best player in basketball on his team. Knowing that Durant will have a tough defensive matchup with LeBron, he might be even more tempted to try to take over. Wade versus Sefolosha and Harden will be fun to watch. For the first time since they teamed up, Wade clearly played second fiddle to LeBron in the Celtics series. Will he continue to do that in the Finals, or will Wade get back to the type of basketball people are used to seeing from him.
You can't say enough about how fun it will be to watch James and Durant against each other. James is bigger, tougher to stop driving to the basket and a better defender. But despite all that, I still expect Durant to have a monster series. He finds new, creative ways to get off his shots, and when he does get off his shot, he doesn't miss often. It will be interesting to see if guarding each other will tire each player to the point that it will effect their offensive production. I expect to see some switching in the series and these two not guard each other exclusively, but still expect them to be matched up plenty.
I expect most games to be in the 90-100 point range and pretty much every game to be decided in the final minutes. I think the Heat will steal a game in Oklahoma City, but then the Thunder will take two out of three in Miami, and then close the Heat out at home in Game 6. I think much like last year's Finals, the better team will win. Miami has constructed a team around three superstars and it has served them well as far as getting to the Finals. But until a fourth player emerges on their team, I think they have reached their pinnacle. LeBron will still be ringless, while Durant will take home Finals MVP and perhaps the title of best player in the game.