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The Pick: Oklahoma City +4
This is shaping up to be a great NBA Finals, as the Heat handed Oklahoma City their first home playoff loss on Thursday to tie the series up at 1 game apiece. Miami’s “big 3″ all had big games, but it was their defense that really made the difference. After being shredded in the 2nd half of Game 1 the Heat looked more like the team we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Game 2: aggressive and physical on defense, and always looking to get out in transition.
Now the series shifts to Miami, where the Heat have played markedly better this year. The Thunder will need improved play from Russell Westbrook, who took 26 shots in Game 2, while Kevin Durant and James Harden, who were both having good shooting nights, took 22 and 11 respectively. Westbrook’s athleticism makes him a mismatch for nearly every point guard in the league, but he too often hurts the team with his reckless play. If he comes out in “shoot first, pass later” mode again tonight then coach Scott Brooks should sit him down and let Derek Fisher play more. The Thunder were +13 in Fisher’s 24 minutes on Thursday; the veteran guard understands playoff basketball and knows a point guard’s primary job is to set up everyone else.
The Heat have been much better since the return of Chris Bosh, who scored 16 points and, more importantly, grabbed 15 rebounds in Game 2. When Bosh is at the high post it gives James and Wade some room because, unlike Udonis Haslem or Joel Anthony, Bosh’s offense must be respected, and he’s also a willing passer. I think Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks should give Nick Collison more time, as he’ll be able to defend Bosh better than the slow and sluggish Kendrick Perkins.
I anticipate a close, competitive, fairly low-scoring game tonight, so I think a bet on the UNDER should be considered. The UNDER is 3-1-1 in the last 5 meetings between these two teams and 19-7-1 in Oklahoma City’s last 27 games against teams from the Eastern Conference. Also, the betting patterns favor the UNDER: the total dropped 2 points 2 hours after it was released, and ever since then the public money has been pouring in on the OVER. That’s your quintessential “big sharp money affects the line, public comes in on the other side” scenario. However, all that being said, the UNDER isn’t where I’m putting my money tonight.
I’ve become a real believer in this Oklahoma City team, they just have more offensive options and play better interior defense than Miami. The Heat need too many things to happen: they need James and Wade to both play well, they need a big contribution from a role player (Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, etc.), and they need Russell Westbrook to play with the same selfish, shoot-first attitude that he had in Game 2. Westbrook showed in the San Antonio series that he can tone it down, and I’ll be surprised if he leads the Thunder in shot attempts again tonight. I’ll take my chances with the better team and the 4 points. I’m having a 2-unit play on Okalhoma City tonight.