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NBA Finals Preview
by Larry Ness - 06/12/2012
Because of coast-to-coast travel in the early 80s (LA vs Boston or Philly was the matchup in FOUR of five NBA Finals from the 1979-80 season the 1983-84 season), the NBA changed its traditional 2-2-1-1-1 seven-game format in the Finals to the current 2-3-2 format for the 1984-85 postseason (also a Finals which featured Boston vs LA). The team with the home court advantage now opens and closes with two home games, while its opponent gets three consecutive home games in the middle (Games 3-5). At the time, the prevailing wisdom was that this new format could very possibly benefit the team without the home court edge. That hasn't been the case.
Over the last 27 NBA Finals, the team with the home court edge has won 20 of the 27 series played, or 74.0 percent. A closer look shows that over the last 27 years, teams playing Games 1 & 2 plus Games 6 & 7 at home are 51-22 (.700) in those contests. However, teams with Games 3 thru 5 at home have gone just 39-38 (.510) in that same span. Pointing out the disadvantage of this format even more to the team without the home court advantage, is this. Of the seven teams which have won the title since 1985 without the home court edge in the Finals (the 1985 Lakers, the 1993 Bulls, the 1995 Rockets, the 1998 Bulls, the 2004 Pistons the 2006 Heat and the 2011 Mavericks), history shows that those teams won not so much as a result of them winning their home games but rather by them being able to win their road games.
These seven teams did go a combined 15-5 (.750) at home (just 7-4 prior to 3-0 sweeps by both Detroit in '04 and Miami in '06 plus a 2-1 record by Dallas last year) but more importantly went 13-6 (.680) in their road games! What this points to is that having three consecutive home games in the middle of a seven-game series has certainly been no advantage and that makes sense. After playing Games 1 (Tuesday) and 2 (Thursday) in Oklahoma City, the Thunder and Heat will head to Miami for a week.The home court edge is mitigated, because the visiting team has almost an entire week in its opponent's city. For Miami to win, one must expect the Heat to win at least once (maybe twice), in OKC.
LeBron James owns three MVP awards while Kevin Durant, in just his fifth NBA season, owns three scoring titles (over the last three years). Either could make a case as the best player in the NBA and one will earn his first-ever NBA title in this series. Now clearly, LBJ faces more pressure, as his teams have been “in the title hunt” in each of the last six seasons (including this year), while Durant’s Thunder have only “come into their own” these last two seasons (lost Western Conference finals to Dallas last year and now this year’s Finals appearance). The NBA has been anticipating (rooting?) for a LBJ/Kobe showdown in the Finals for the last three-to-four years but this LBJ/Durant showdown is every bit as good. Then again, as Durant says, "Everybody is going to make the most out of the matchup of me versus LeBron, but it's the Thunder versus the Heat. One guy versus another guy, it's not going to be a 1-on-1 matchup to win the series, it's going to be all about the team."
Both teams own versions of a “Big 3,” the Heat featuring LBJ, Wade and Bosh, while the Thunder have Durant, Westbrook and Harden. Bosh has missed NINE of Miami’s 18 postseason games with an abdominal strain but the Heat trio still edges OKC’s, averaging a combined 67.4-to-67.1 PPG. However, it’s clear that the Thunder are not only younger but are more athletic and have contributors outside of their Big 3, something the Heat sorely lack. Oklahoma City is the only team still unbeaten at home (8-0 SU / 5-3 ATS) and one would have to give them a momentum edge, after winning FOUR straight over the Spurs. However, one can’t discount what Miami’s done with its “backs to the wall.”
The Heat seemingly need to have their backs to the wall before responding. Let’s discount the Knicks’ series (a no contest) and look at Miami’s series against the Pacers and the Celtics. In each case, Miami didn’t play its best ball until it got “in trouble.” Down 2-1 to the Pacers, the Heat responded with impressive wins of 101-93 (were down 10 at the half), 115-83 and 105-93. Then down 3-2 after losing THREE in a row to the aging and depth-shy Celtics, Miami won Game 6 in Boston (98-79) and Game 7 in Miami, 101-88 (outscored Boston 20-6 over the final eight minutes of the game). The Heat have been expected to win (they pretty much promised they would, right?) since LBJ took his talents to South Beach (along with Bosh), to join Wade. So far, the team has yet to deliver. Will this be the year, when the Heat find themselves not favored to win?
Game 1 is set for 9:00 ET on ABC and the Thunder are favored by five points (total is 196). Oklahoma City opened minus-$1.50 to win the series and has been bet up to minus-$1.70. My next playoff journal will be Thursday by 2:00 ET.