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Point/Counterpoint: Who will win this year's NBA Finals?

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 22, 2014 5:00 AM

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Chicago

To quote the great Michael Scott, “Oh, how the turntables …”

In a season in which Chicago once had championship aspirations, the Bulls return to the NBA playoffs with as a potential darkhorse to crash the Eastern Conference party.

Beginning the season looking for a title led by MVP Derrick Rose, things didn’t exactly go as planned in the Windy City. But even after Rose suffered yet another season-ending knee injury and two-time All-Star Luol Deng was traded away, the Bulls somehow wind up with a real chance to make a playoff run.

Led by Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, the Bulls boast the stingiest defense in the league, allowing opponents fewer than 92 points per game. Furthermore, their opponents shot only 43.1 percent from the floor and attempted only 20.5 free throws per game, second and third in the league.

With points hard to come by and shots often missed, the Bulls’ opponents better be prepared to rebound, but it won’t come easy. Chicago is a top-10 rebounding team, and is third overall in total rebounding rate, meaning it corralled 51.8 percent of all rebounds available.

Offensively, the Bulls will struggle at times, but they don’t have the best record in the East since the turn of the calendar year by accident.

Since the beginning of 2014, head coach Tom Thibodeau has uniquely run an offense through center Noah, who has responded by scoring 13.6 points per game to go along with 12 rebounds per game, and an absurd 6.5 assists per game.

For those who claim the Bulls are without shooters, it should be noted that guards Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, and midseason-signing D.J. Augustin are shooting a combined 39.3 percent from 3-point land since the Jan. 1 mark.

Augustin and Sixth Man of the Year Candidate Taj Gibson will look to give Chicago much needed energy off the bench in a long, grind-it-out postseason behind Noah.

— Kyle Mann

Miami

When the Heat reach their fourth-straight NBA Finals come June, they will be the first team to do so since the Larry Bird led Celtics in the 1980s. Think about that. Jordan’s Bulls didn’t do it. The Kobe/Shaq Lakers couldn’t do it. Not even Brian Scalabrine’s Celtics could do it when LeBron James was wasting away in Cleveland and the East was as wide open as it has ever been.

With the Pacers in a seemingly two-monthlong identity crisis, Brooklyn hitching its wagons to the walking corpses of the artists formerly known as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and the Bulls running their offense through the *Defensive* Player of the Year in the NBA, all roads lead to a potential rematch with either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in this summer’s finals.

Sure, the Spurs got “Shuttlesworthed” in last year’s finals, and Oklahoma City are led by a possessed Kevin Durant who is having one of the single greatest offensive seasons in league history, but I wouldn’t worry about that.

Since the All-Star break, Pop’s Spurs are led in scoring by Kawhi Leonard’s jaw-dropping 14 points per game (joke) and while KD is always a threat to single-handedly win a game, you can guarantee his running mate Russell Westbrook will jack up shots and getting his over the course of a seven game series (20.8 shots per game in April, the exact same average Durant has for the season).

The Larry O’Brien trophy is staying in South Beach.

— Joshua Bolander

Oklahoma City

The Oklahoma City Thunder will survive a strong Western Conference and win this year’s NBA championship.

Why?

Two letters: KD.

Kevin Durant is the best pure scorer in the league and should win the MVP trophy this year. It’s not hard to see why when you look at his stat line this season (32ppg/7.4rpg/5.5apg) but even his numbers don’t tell the entire story.

He has looked focused and confident the entire season, and this was especially shown when point guard Russell Westbrook missed a good chunk of the season with a knee injury. While the star point guard sat out, Durant took complete control of the team, and the Thunder kept thundering.

Durant also leads the league in player-efficiency rating at 29.90 and has simply been unstoppable with a true shooting percentage of .634.

His brilliance can lead this team far, but it will take the entire Thunder roster in order to win a championship.

That’s where such guys as Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins come in. Both players are now healthy after suffering injuries earlier in the season and are major defensive pieces for the Thunder.

Both, along with Serge Ibaka, are paint protectors and shot blockers who can run the floor along with the extremely fast Westbrook.

Unlike past years, this team has playoff experience and knows how to deal with adversity. Losing Westbrook taught the team how to play for an extended period of time without him and showcased just how much influence that Durant can have on a game.

The current starting lineup of Perkins, Durant, Westbrook, Sefolosha, and Ibaka is the exact same that faced the Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.

A bit of déjà vu?

Maybe.

— Jordan Hanson

San Antonio

The San Antonio Spurs are the only team in the NBA that could enter the playoffs with the best record in the NBA, yet still be overlooked.

Over the course of the regular season, San Antonio had winning streaks of 11 games and one that spanned an NBA-best 19 games. The Spurs led the NBA with the biggest point differential — 7.7 per game. Their offensive and defensive ratings were both in the top 10 of the league. Oh, and they did all of this with their top four scorers — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard — missing a combined 48 games.

So why is San Antonio overlooked?

It’s boring.

There’s absolutely nothing exciting about the Spurs. It’s become a given that year after year the Spurs will finish with 50 wins and compete for a title. Duncan alone has had 16 50-win seasons, more than all but four NBA franchises. And one of those franchises is San Antonio.

San Antonio is a team that won’t wow casual fans, but those who have followed the NBA for years appreciate the rare brand of consistency that the Spurs have reached.

Remember, if not for Ray Allen’s 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last season — a shot that only Allen could have hit — we’d debate whether the Spurs would repeat this season.

But Allen famously made that shot; therefore, when the Spurs hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, they will not do so as back-to-back champions. But they will be champions nonetheless.

— Jake Sheyko


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