The marquee Christmas matchup sees the Heat taking on the Thunder in a rematch of last year’s Finals. Each team is ranked second in their respective conference by our nERD rankings, so expect a competitive matchup that will be decided by a few key factors.
Led by Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, and Ray Allen, the Heat have had a spectacular shooting season. With an effective field goal percentage of 55.4%, Miami has shot better from the floor than any other team in the league.
They may find that more difficult today, as Oklahoma City has, under the radar, been very effective in preventing easy looks for opponents. Over the season, they’ve allowed the third lowest effective field goal percentage in the league. Kevin Durant has been key to their solid defensive play this year, as the Thunder allow 4.4 more points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor than when he plays.
No one is better at drawing fouls than the Thunder. They have the best ratio of free throws to field goals attempted, with 0.299, of any team in the league. As Miami is an extremely top heavy team, they will suffer if any of their key players get into foul trouble. Miami is in the middle of the pack in terms of how frequently they foul others, so things could easily not go Miami’s way here.
LeBron vs Durant
Thanks to last year’s Finals, we have a decent sample size of how LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s play changes when the other is on the court. Since they are often matched up against each other, it is reasonable to think that these changes might be an indicator of how they will play today. Per NBA.com, one of the biggest changes is in Kevin Durant’s shooting. He increased his threes attempted per 36 minutes from 4.7, his season average, to 5.6 in the playoffs last year while slightly improving his shooting percentages from beyond the arc.
The most significant difference in LeBron’s game is that he becomes more of a facilitator when Kevin Durant is on the floor. In last year’s playoffs, he got assists at a rate of 6.3 per 36 minutes as opposed to his average of 4.7 assists per 36 minutes. Pertinent to the note about fouling, LeBron’s fouling rate dropped significantly when he was playing against Durant. As such, he is unlikely to get into foul trouble in this game.