OKLAHOMA CITY -- The best thing to happen to LeBron James in the 2012 NBA Finals is Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade said on Tuesday.
Conventional wisdom suggests James would benefit from an easier matchup, but the individual showdown between James and Durant, arguably the two best basketball players in the world, is exactly the thing Wade believes will force James to remain focused during the Finals.
âIâd rather for him to be guarding Kevin Durant than to have to guard DeShawn Stevenson or Shawn Marion like last year where he wasnât as involved,â Wade said. âWith Kevin Durant, youâve got to have your antennas up at all times. I think thatâs going to bring out the best out of both of them.â
James famously struggled in last yearâs Finals. On Monday, he admitted to letting his teammates down and ânot making enough game-changing plays.â Although it would be a stretch to suggest Jamesâ poor play in Games 4 and 5 against the Dallas Mavericks was a product of who he was guarding on the defensive end, Wadeâs perspective makes sense in a roundabout way.
James seemed detached during long stretches in last yearâs championship round. Maybe having to worry about Durant for 48 minutes will prevent Jamesâ from thinking too much about the moment.
âIâm glad that [James] has that challenge because itâs going to make him focus more,â Wade said. âItâs going to make him play a little different.â
In head-to-head meetings entering the Finals, both James and Durant averaged 27 points per game against each other. In April, James and Durant matched up against each other and put on a show. James finished with 34 points, and Durant had 30. The Heat won 98-93.
Home-court advantage for the Finals was determined by the smallest of margins. The Thunder earned four games in Oklahoma City because it finished with a better record than the Heat during the regular season. The Thunder was 47-19, and the Heat was 46-20.
Although the Thunder finished out the regular season playing all of its starters, the Heat rested Wade, James and Chris Bosh down the stretch. The Thunder went 5-3 in its final eight games, and the Heat lost three of its last four games, including two to the Wizards.
âWe did that strategy for a reason at the end of the season. We had to,â Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the teamâs Tuesday morning shootaround. âWe had to get guys healthy and make sure theyâre ready for the long haul.â
After the Eastern Conference finals, Spoelstra said home-court advantage in Game 7 was a major advantage. Still, apparently not as important as being fully healthy entering the playoffs after a difficult lockout-condensed season.
âHealth was the No. 1 issue,â Spoelstra said. âWe didnât have guys 100 percent healthy. That last week was really critical for us going into the second season.â
Before you question the Heatâs end-of-season strategy, remember that home-court advantage didnât mean much in last seasonâs NBA Finals.
âWe had opportunities throughout the year, and we didnât seize certain ones,â James said. âOur fate is in how we play and not necessarily being at home. It doesnât guarantee winning. That doesnât guarantee a championship. So we get three games at home.â
Shane Battier used to be somewhat of a household name. That was about a decade ago. Since being a national champion at Duke and National Player of the Year, his Q-rating has taken a considerable nosedive. Battier joked around with reporters that the Finals were a chance to reintroduce himself to the sports world.
âThatâs the title of my book, whenever I write it someday, Didnât You Used to Shane Battier,â Battier said. âYes! Yes! When I was in Memphis, they asked me, âSo where are you playing?â Iâm playing in Memphis. âGreat, great.â Itâs awesome, they have uniforms and referees and everything.â
A few analysts have suggested that the NBA championship this season should come with an asterisk based on the fact that teams only played 66 games in the regular season. Wade basically called that notion ridiculous.
âThis was more challenging of a season than an 82-game season because everything happens so fast,â Wade said. âYou barely got any rest during the season, so this season has been more challenging.
âI think the guys who get crowned for this season, I think should really feel like real champions because you have to be a real champion to make it all the way through this season.â