Heat (2-3, 1-1 road) vs. Thunder (5-1, 3-0 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 97.1 (25th), Heat – 97.3 (24th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 95.2 (4th), Heat – 100.0 (8th)
Think back to four years ago. The Miami Heat were coming off their first championship under the Big 3 era of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The team they won it against, the Oklahoma City Thunder, was in the midst of transforming their team to better their chances for future meetings against the Heat in the Finals. They had just traded away James Harden, but still had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka on their team.
Fast forward to today, and the only player mentioned above still playing for their team is Westbrook (technically, Bosh is still a member of the Heat, but is out because of a career-threatening blood-clot related injuries). James is winning championships in Cleveland, Wade went back home to Chicago, Durant signed with Golden State, and Ibaka was traded to Orlando. In the NBA, a lot can change in four years.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of two meetings between the Thunder and Heat. The teams split their season meeting last year with each team winning on its home floor.
The Heat come into the game with a 2-3 record. They’ve beat the teams they are supposed to beat, but have struggled against the better competition in the league. The Heat are a team currently in flux, as they aren’t necessarily on a rebuild, but they don’t have the talent to be considered a mid to top tier team. They are a team that has young pieces, with one of the pieces, Hassan Whiteside, serving as someone the team could build around.
Tyler Johnson got himself a surprisingly big contract this past offseason, but so far, he has been living up to that contract. He’s averaging 15.2 points and 4 rebounds on 50% shooting from 3-point territory as the top reserve on the team. If he continues this play, his contract will be one of the most valuable in the league. In the backcourt, former Thunder player Dion Waiters is providing the Heat what he provided to the Thunder: a balanced game that can be explosive from time to time. Joining him in the backcourt is veteran point guard Goran Dragic, who is pumping in 19.4 points and 6.6 assists. Justice Winslow continues to improve in this his second season, becoming more and more comfortable with the ball in his hands.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Pace
Whoever dictates the pace of this game will likely come out the victor. The Thunder like to run it up and down, racking up an average of 104.1 possessions per game, which is fourth fastest in the league. With the Thunder lack of shooting in the half-court, much of their offense is generated on the fastbreak. Miami, on the other hand, is the 9th slowest team in the league, with only 97.7 possessions per game. If the Thunder can get the Heat running, that will be more to their liking.2. Rebounding
Another battle that may determine the outcome of this game is rebounding. The Heat have one of the league leaders in rebounding in Whiteside at 14.2 per game, but the Thunder outrebound the Heat by nearly 3 as a team. Neither team is especially great from the perimeter, so rebounding may be important to starting the transition game for the Thunder.3. Dion Waiters
This is the week of happy returns for the Thunder, as they will see both Waiters and Serge Ibaka in the span of a week. I say happy because neither player left Oklahoma City under bad terms. Ibaka was part of a trade, while Waiters was a casualty of Durant leaving and the team moving in a new direction. While Waiters was here though, there was one thing you could always count on: his effort. The efficiency may not have always been there, but the effort usually made up for it. I won’t be at the game, but if I was, I’d give Waiters a big standing ovation.