After James Harden’s 40-point performance against the Suns last night, I was reminded why the Thunder should be the favorites to win the NBA Finals this year. Yes, over the league’s MVP LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Yes, over Tony Parker and the impressive San Antonio Spurs. And yes, over the Chicago Bulls and all their amazing team chemistry. Why? Because despite their recent struggles, the Thunder are just too damn dangerous on offense to stop for an entire playoff series.
OKC benefits from having former a scoring champion and runner-up MVP in Kevin Durant, an offensive-minded and athletic point guard in Russell Westbrook, and an outside shooter who can also get to the rim and play phenomenal defense in James Harden, the Thunder’s big three might be more impressive than the Miami Heat’s. Yeah, I said it. The fact is, LeBron James doesn’t play as well when Dwyane Wade is on the floor and Chris Bosh has tendencies to disappear. OKC’s big three on the other hand, complements each other and picks up each other’s slack in the event that one has a mediocre night. Look at last night; Westbrook finished with only 15 points, but Harden went nuts for 40 and Kevin Durant had a “quiet” 29. Now to be fair, the Heat’s big three pick up each other’s slack, so why are the Thunder such imposing favorites to win it all? Because of their supporting cast. The Heat can barely get anything out Mario Chalmers, whoever they start at center on a given night and their entire bench who have all but disappeared lately. Meanwhile, the Thunder benefit from great defense down low from Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Thabo Sefolosha leaves a lot to be desired at times, but the majority of this Thunder team plays defense and Nick Collison, Daequan Cook, Nazr Mohammed and Derek Fisher make up a decent bench of role players.
To sum things up, if James Harden plays half as well during the playoffs as he did last night against the Suns, the Thunder will be the team to beat in the playoffs. I said that Harden would be one of the top 20 players to watch in the playoffs this year, mostly because of how dominant OKC becomes when he scores 20+ points. Harden and his beard are having a breakout year, and when you combine that with the already winning combination of MVP-hopeful Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, you’ve got a championship formula. And you know what the best part of that formula is? They don’t have to deal with the pressure, hype and media criticism that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh do. If OKC falls short, who cares? They’re still young and the Thunder are a developing franchise. But if Miami loses in the second chapter of their big three experiment with the greatest player in the game, one of the all-time great point guards and an All-Star big man, the world’s perception of that failure will tear them apart.
I think San Antonio can give the Thunder a scare and it’s also true that the Bulls, Celtics or Pacers could very well knock the Heat off in the East. But I still think we’ll ultimately see a Thunder-Heat NBA Finals matchup. What better way to end the season is there? I want to see Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden go up against Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and you should too. The two top MVP candidates, two phenomenal point guards and two exceptional role players going at it? You can’t script a better Finals than that. It’s important to remember that it’s nearly impossible to stop Miami’s big three when they get going, but don’t forget this either: It might be even harder to stop Kevin Durant AND Russell Westbrook AND James Harden for a whole seven-game series.