John Hollinger (Insider) compares the team building models of the Thunder and Heat and finds that having the very best players is a pretty solid strategy, no matter how you get them. He also unearths this nugget: "Each of the past 33 champions either had an overwhelming individual talent or an overwhelming defense. This is vitally important for the league's other 28 teams, because they can't match the star power of the Heat and Thunder. A few teams have a chance on the superstar front. Whomever gets Dwight Howard is certainly in the discussion; the Clippers might also match the front-line talent of the Heat and Thunder but, alas, are the Clippers. Chicago may be as well, depending on how Derrick Rose recovers. Minnesota? Perhaps. And maybe New Orleans in a couple of years. Nonetheless, the biggest threat to the Miami-OKC hegemony is the dreaded 'bunch of good players' model that has so rarely yielded championships. Right now the main threats to Miami and Oklahoma City all operate on that model. Going forward, four of the teams best positioned to challenge them are Indiana, Utah, Memphis and Denver. Memo to teams like those that have a great nucleus but lack a transcendent superstar and are never getting one: You have to lead the league in defense. Have to. Otherwise, you're guaranteed to be outgunned."
Dirk Nowitzki talks about Kevin Durant to ESPN's own Marc Stein: "'He's a 6-10 guy with a 7-4 wingspan who can shoot it from the parking lot. He's posting up now. In transition he's so long that, when he gets a pass from the 3-point line, it's a layup or dunk with one step. He's got the one- or two-dribble pull-up, which you need to be a great scorer, because you can't just shoot 3s or go to the basket if you want to be a great scorer, 'cause sometimes you can't get all the way to the bucket. He can go both ways, one or two dribbles and up. And he's clutch, too. He's hit big shot after big shot all season long. He made three game winners on us this year. I thought he's always been clutch, but now it's almost like you know he's going to make them. He's phenomenal.'"
A question that could decide the Finals: How well will the Heat defend the Thunder's pick-and-roll attack? Kevin Durant is tall enough to pass out of traps, and he burned the Heat for being too aggressive in the regular season. However the Russell Westbrook and James Harden did not fare so well against hard hedges and outright traps.
On the New York Times, some really cool interactive graphics that explain where the Heat and Thunder players shoot well, and not so well.
In a conversation with Ian Eagle of CBS, David Stern reflects on the effects of the NBA's age limit, which prohibits players from entering the draft until they are one year removed from high school graduation: "'I believe that 19 is better than 18. We understand that players who are anxious to get to the league use the college as a training ground -- really, sort of a vocational school. I'm not sure that it's a better training ground than our NBA Development League or a better training ground than Brandon Jennings found in the Euro League. But that's the player's choice -- and the school's choice, I might add. The school can choose to become a vocational tool for the players, and some do.'"
Derek Fisher gave up a guaranteed $3.4 million from the Rockets so he could play with the Thunder this season. Seems to be working out.
Excellent: Tony Allen scouts the NBA Finals.
An extensive, two part breakdown of the LeBron James-Kevin Durant matchup that I did with Brett Koremenos on HoopSpeak includes this note: "This will probably mean James starts a few key possessions guarding someone else, likely Westbrook, so that he can switch on to Durant at the end of the possession. In fact, the Heat’s no point guard lineup provides a great counter to the Thunder’s 'unstoppable play,' which is really just a down screen for Durant from Westbrook. The Heat — if Battier starts on Durant (likely) and James is assigned to swallowing up Westbrook (also likely) — can just switch this pick and let James muscle up on Durant to push him out to the perimeter. Of any team in the NBA, the Heat are probably the team best equipped to reigning in the Thunder’s pet play."
Many perceived weaknesses, like its reliance on isolation play, have become the Thunder's greatest strengths.
Great video work on how the Heat spring Mario Chalmers for wide open 3-pointers.
SI's Zach Lowe digs into the widespread implications of the Heat's small lineup, which features Shane Battier and LeBron James at forward.
The Clippers plan to give max contracts to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, so they should avoid giving anyone else a contract lasting longer than three years.
You should probably get up to speed on Damian Lillard, who was drawing Derrick Rose comparisons at the NBA Draft Combine, says ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider).
"Legitimate, palpable friction" between Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.
What the Thunder in the Finals means to one Seattle fan and his homemade poster.