Thunder Up

Smack dab in the middle of the ’11-12 season, Editor-at-Large Lang Whitaker wrote a little postseason preview for SLAM 158 in which he predicted that the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder would face off in the NBA Finals. (He also wrote a season preview back in December that predicted the same.) Smart guy, huh? You can read Lang’s piece from 158—which concludes with a Finals pick—below. —Ed.

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

This has been an NBA season unlike any other. When the lockout ended in the middle of the night back in late November, the NBA immediately went from a standstill into hyperdrive. Literally overnight, coaches met rookies for the second or third time, free agents were courted and signed, and we observed a compressed NBA season on fast-forward.

In the SLAM season preview, we picked the Heat to win the East and the Thunder to rumble out West. Now…I’m not saying we are experts, but I’m just saying: At press time, the Heat were 35-13 and the Thunder were 37-12. Both teams were nearly unbeatable at home (Miami was 20-2, OKC was 22-4).

Actually, though, the Chicago Bulls have the NBA’s best record at press time at 41-11, and they lead the Eastern Conference by a handful of games. But last season we saw the Heat handle them relatively easily, mainly by having LeBron defend Derrick Rose. As good as the Bulls are defensively, they are just a tad limited offensively, and Miami has the pieces in the halfcourt to match up and stop Da Bulls.

The Heat started the season shot out of a cannon, playing at a crazy tempo and defending like their lives depended on it. But their pace and ferocity has slowed as the season has tripped along, which means other teams have a chance of keeping up. And as the Heat have added players here and there, there’s still a significant drop-off after the Big Three.

Out West, it starts and ends in OKC. They have the best young scorer in the NBA (Durant), and they have one of the best young point guards in the NBA (Westbrook). They have a stone-cold scorer coming off the bench (James Harden), terrific depth on the front line (Perkins, Ibaka, Collison, Mohammed), and they signed Derek Fisher to fill in for the injured Eric Maynor at the backup PG slot. Suddenly, the Thunder have Championship experience to go with the athleticism and scoring they already possess.

Coming into the season, I thought the question was whether the Thunder would have the maturity and experience to win it all. Now I’m just wondering if anyone else is going to be able to beat them over the next few years? Perhaps, but this year, I’m sticking with our pre-season pick of Oklahoma City and Miami in the Finals, and we’re going with the Thunder to win it all. Rumble, young men, rumble.