Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Other than injury, what’s the biggest threat to the Thunder — from the Thunder?
Steve Aschburner: Nerves. Or Russell Westbrook. I can’t decide which of those might seize up on the Thunder now that they’ve reached the NBA’s biggest stage. The lights are brighter, and hotter, than any under which Oklahoma City ever has played. That’s not to say they’re certain to wilt but compared to Miami – the most scrutinized team in NBA history – the Thunder has been playing below the radar. On a cool afternoon. At a playground on the far side of town. Any expectations fans have for them, or they have for themselves, haven’t crossed over into the better-not-lose pressure the Heat has faced since Day 1, 2010-11. As for Westbrook, Oklahoma City needs his energy and relentlessness – wonder what Miami coach Erik Spoelstra will call him, after labeling Rajon Rondo an “unpredictable genius” – but too much of both at the wrong times could spell trouble. To me, he’s the X factor for the Thunder in both directions.
Fran Blinebury: I guess this is your sly way of asking if Russell Westbrook can screw this up for the Thunder. He’ll certainly get the lion’s share of the blame for any games the Thunder lose. But I also think he’ll bail them out a time or two.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Turnovers. It was a major problem during the regular season and so it must be considered at least a potential threat in the Finals, even with commendable improvements the first three rounds of the playoffs. There were no serious problems with sloppy ball handling or poor decisions against the Mavericks, Lakers or Spurs. But those teams didn’t have defenders like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to throw at playmakers Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant.
Shaun Powell: OKC only needs to get a grip on the ball. Turnovers and Russell Westbrook occasionally playing out of control are the only weakness of this crew, and even that is nitpicking at this point, because the Thunder’s many strengths can cover for all that. Miami must beat OKC, the Thunder won’t beat themselves.
John Schuhmann: Fouls. Their big guys – Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison – tend to foul a lot. Thunder opponents rank fifth in free throw rate in the postseason (32 FTA per 100 FGA) and the Heat would love for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to get to the line 20-plus times a game. Of course, it all starts on the perimeter, and it’s up to the OKC guards and wings to keep the Heat stars in front of them. They can’t just depend on the frontline to protect the rim.
Sekou Smith: This is just another way of getting us all to bag on Russell Westbrook, isn’t it? Well, I’m not going there. Not until we see a game or two, at least. The biggest threat right now is the pressure. The Thunder can’t succumb to the pressure of being the “favorite” in this series. This team is just three years removed from lottery country. So outside of the Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins, they don’t have a wealth of playoff experience to fall back on once this series gets going. I am by no means questioning their toughness, because you don’t vanquish the 13-year power structure in the Western Conference the way they did in the postseason without having some serious chops. It’s just that it’s hard to simulate the pressure The Finals brings until you get there, as a group. And if you need a reminder, just look at the way the Heat crumbled under the weight of expectations last year against the Mavericks.