Are HEAT and Thunder on a Collision Course?
The Miami HEAT and Oklahoma City Thunder hit the All-Star Break with identical 27-7 records. The HEAT are looking for a return visit to the NBA Finals, with hopes to win their second title with Dwyane Wade. The Thunder have improved yearly since drafting Kevin Durant. After losing in the Western Conference Finals a year ago, OK City may be the primary obstacle standing in Miami’s way.
In February, however, the attention turns to the All-Star Game in Orlando where Wade makes his eighth appearance and Durant his third.
“I remember my first All-Star when I came down to the rookie game and I still remember it today like it was yesterday,” said Wade. “This is just an experience that you don’t know if you’re ever going to come back again but you might be back for many years but that first one’s always special.”
The HEAT in general are well-represented in Orlando this weekend.
“[It's great] being able to share it with my teammates with having [Bosh] here and having Bron here and [James Jones] and Mario [Chalmers] and Norris [Cole], just being able to share it with them and also my family,” said Wade. “My son is ten years old and he’ll get an opportunity to see his dad as an All-Star. That means a lot to me that my kids can see me in this environment. Let them know at least that I’m not leaving the house all the time because I’m not doing anything. I’m working hard.”
In addition to teammate Russell Westbrook, Durant will be joined by Thunder head coach Scott Brooks on Sunday in the big game.
Durant has a special relationship with Brooks.
“He believes in me much and he coaches me up every single day. He doesn’t let me slip up or anything,” said Durant. “No matter what, I’m the first guy he yells at and I really like that. That’s something I grew up on. My mom was always stern, my dad, my coaches. I didn’t want it any different coming from one of the best coaches in the NBA Scotty Brooks. I don’t want him to baby me and that’s one thing he’s not doing. I’m excited that I’m playing for the Thunder.”
Oklahoma City has won their last five games. Their lead over the second-place San Antonio Spurs is three full games. The Thunder are scoring 102.7 points per game, second in the west to the Denver Nuggets.
Miami’s has a slight scoring edge over both the Thunder and Nuggets at 103.7 a game. They’ve also won eight straight including a decisive win over the upstart New York Knicks.
Given how well both teams have been playing, maybe time off isn’t a help. Then again, the schedule is so compacted, it’s not really that much of a break.
“No, not a break at all,” said Wade. “We stay pretty busy but it’s a good time away from basketball. With so many games coming so fast I’m sure everyone in here can use a few days off to rest their bodies before we get back into the second half of the season, grind of that.”
The HEAT scrambled last year to field a full, potent roster after the intricate machinations that landed Miami LeBron James and Chris Bosh (while retaining Wade). This season, the supporting cast fits together a bit more naturally. Shane Battier is still one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. Rookie Norris Cole provides quickness and a scoring punch at the point.
“Our bench, first of all, has been healthy and we’ve got a pretty deep bench with Norris, with Shane, with Mike [Miller], with Udonis [Haslem],” said Wade. “Those guys coming out really relieving a lot of minutes. I haven’t even played as many minutes as I’ve played in my career. It’s because I know I can go hard the minutes I’m out there and I know that I’ve got somebody that can come in that can get the job done.”
As solid as the Thunder have been, Durant believes they can get better.
“I think for us it comes down to turning the ball over. I average almost four turnovers a game, that’s unacceptable for a guy like me that handles the ball a lot,” said Durant. “I can’t give the ball away to the other team that much. Rebounding and boxing out, we lost in the playoffs like that two years in a row. And execution, we’ve been doing a better job late in the game executing. It’s only going to get better. I think the turnover thing is something we can control and our bigs are doing a great job. Serge [Ibaka] and [Kendrick Perkins], I’m even getting in there and getting more rebounds and so is Russell. We just have to do a better job at that and I think we’ll be all right.”
It will take a lot for the Thunder to advance out of the West but they may be the prohibitive favorites. Perhaps the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks or either the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers manages to make a case, but to date Oklahoma City Thunder remains the favorite.
The Chicago Bulls may be the biggest threat to the HEAT in the East. It’d be surprising to see any other team in the conference topping either the Thunder or Bulls.
Beyond the NBA, both Wade and Durant may end up teammates this summer as part of Team USA.
“It’d mean the world to me, man. I’m just excited to just get that opportunity to be on the finalist team and hopefully they pick me and I can help the team out as much as they want me to help,” said Kevin. “If they want me to come off the bench and be a great teammate I’ll do that. If they want me to just come in and shoot all threes, I’ll do it. Whatever they need me to do I’m ready to do and hopefully I’m there. I just can’t wait to play along some of the greatest players in the world.”
Of course they may end up true rivals come June if their respective teams can navigate through the playoffs all the way to the NBA Finals . . .