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John Schuhmann

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Limiting LeBron James' impact in the paint has been an area of concern for every Heat opponent.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Previewing The Finals from a stats point of view


Posted Jun 12 2012 11:42AM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- On the surface, picking a favorite in the 2012 NBA Finals isn't easy. And it really doesn't get any easier when you take a deeper look at the numbers.

Both the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder have made impressive runs through their conference to get here. Both faced adversity in the conference finals and both came up with big performances on the road before closing out at home.

There are tons of numbers you can dig through to get ready for the series. Here are a few...

The basics

Both in the regular season and the playoffs, the Thunder have been the better offensive team and the Heat have been the better defensive team. And though overall league efficiency has gone down 1.4 points per 100 possessions from the regular season to the playoffs, both teams have been more efficient offensively in the postseason.

Heat efficiency
Season Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Reg. Season 93.7 15 104.3 6 97.1 4 +7.2 3
Playoffs 90.1 12 105.7 3 96.5 3 +9.3 1
Thunder efficiency
Season Pace Rank OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Reg. Season 95.7 6 107.1 2 100.0 9 +7.2 4
Playoffs 93.3 3 110.1 1 102.1 9 +7.9 2
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Taking care of the ball

When you're playing either of these teams, the last thing you want to do is turn the ball over. LeBron James and Russell Westbrook ranked second and third in the league in fast-break points respectively. Kevin Durant (sixth), Dwyane Wade (18th) and James Harden (20th) also ranked in the top 20.

Fortunately for both teams (or maybe unfortunately for both teams), they've each been able to take care of the ball much better in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.

The Thunder turned the ball over 17 times per 100 possessions in the regular season, the second-highest rate in the league. The Heat weren't much better, coughing it up 16.1 times per 100 possessions, the ninth-highest rate in the league.

But in the postseason, the Thunder have remarkably cut their turnovers down to just 12.3 per 100 possessions the second-lowest rate of 16 playoff teams. The Heat are down to 14.4 per 100 possessions.

For OKC, the reduced turnovers are pretty much the only reason for the improved offense in the playoffs. They're shooting a little worse, grabbing fewer offensive rebounds and getting to the line a little less often than they did in the regular season.

In addition to turning the ball over less, the Heat are also getting to the line more often. They're attempting 37 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field in the playoffs, up from 31 in the regular season.

Protect the paint

If the Thunder have one defensive priority, it's to keep James and Wade out of the paint. Of the 58 players who have attempted at least 35 shots in the paint in the postseason, James and Wade rank first and fifth in paint field goal percentage respectively.

Highest paint field goal percentage, 2012 Playoffs
Player FGM FGA FG%
LeBron James 133 202 65.8%
Serge Ibaka 46 70 65.7%
Tiago Splitter 30 46 65.2%
Ty Lawson 34 53 64.2%
Dwyane Wade 110 178 61.8%
Minimum 35 attempts in the paint

The Heat lead all 16 playoff teams by shooting 59 percent in the paint. The Thunder defense allows more shots in the paint (48 percent of its opponents total shots) than the league average (47 percent), but is sixth in allowing its opponents to shoot just 51.2 percent in the paint.

On the other end of the floor, the Thunder have attempted 42 percent of their shots from outside the paint, the highest ratio among the 16 playoff teams. But that works for them. No team has shot better from mid-range (44.6 percent) and they rank third in postseason 3-point percentage (37.4 percent).

Big or small?

Now that the Heat have Chris Bosh back healthy, they have the option of playing either big (with Bosh and another big man) or small (with just one big man on the floor).

Thus far in the postseason, the Heat have been slightly better with two big men on the floor than otherwise. And they've been excellent with Bosh and Udonis Haslem on the floor together.

Heat efficiency, two bigs on the floor, 2012 Playoffs
Combination MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Bosh & Haslem 123 87.6 106.4 90.5 +16.0
Anthony & Haslem 53 84.3 123.1 113.3 +9.8
Haslem & Turiaf 27 92.7 101.2 107.1 -5.8
Anthony & Bosh 21 91.1 87.7 86.3 +1.4
2-big totals 224 87.8 107.7 97.4 +10.3
Other lineups 649 90.9 105.1 96.2 +8.9

Eighty of those 123 Bosh-Haslem minutes came against the Knicks in the first round, but the Heat outscored the Celtics 70-44 in 31 minutes in the conference finals with Bosh and Haslem on the floor together.

That's the argument for going big. But in the two regular season meetings against the Thunder, the Heat were better when they went small. It's a small sample size, but Miami outscored Oklahoma City 45-26 in about 16 minutes with just one big man on the floor. The Thunder outscored them 170-140 in the other 80 minutes.

Who's the most important player on the floor?

There's a reason why James averaged 46 minutes per game in the conference finals. It's because the Heat are a much better team, both offensively and defensively, with him on the floor than they are with him on the bench.

Heat efficiency with James on/off the floor, 2012 Playoffs
James on/off floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
James on 763 90.5 107.3 95.6 +11.7 +168
James off 111 86.7 94.5 102.9 -8.4 -25

James' plus-168 is the highest plus-minus of the postseason by a good margin. After James comes teammate Dwyane Wade at plus-142, and then ... James Harden at plus-140, even though Harden has played far fewer minutes than both James, Wade, Westbrook and Durant.

On a per-possession basis, Harden has the best postseason plus-minus on either team...

Thunder efficiency with Harden on/off the floor, 2012 Playoffs
Harden on/off floor MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Harden on 466 94.2 116.6 99.8 +16.8 +140
Harden off 254 91.7 97.9 106.5 -8.7 -40

Serge Ibaka has been the teammate to benefit most from Harden's presence offensively. Ibaka has shot 36-for-59 (61 percent) with Harden on the floor and 34-for-67 (50.4 percent) with Harden on the bench. Durant (+2.4 percent), Westbrook (+4.5 percent) and Thabo Sefolosha (+31.5 percent) have also shot better with Harden on the floor.

Of the 23 Thunder lineups that have played at least 50 minutes in the playoffs, the unit of Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins has been the best offensively, scoring almost 119 points per 100 possessions in 89 minutes together. Next best has been the Miami unit of Mario Chalmers, Wade, James, Shane Battier and Haslem, which has scored just over 112 points per 100 possessions in 92 minutes together.

In the regular season, the Thunder were much better offensively with Harden on the floor, but also worse defensively.

Fourth-quarter strength

Over the course of the postseason, the Thunder have been outscored by 25 points in the first quarter, when they've been their weakest offensively. The Heat have been outscored by four points in the second quarter, when they've been their worst defensively.

Interestingly, both teams have been at their best in the fourth quarter. Miami has been the No. 1 fourth-quarter team in the playoffs, having outscored their opponents by almost 22 points per 100 possessions in the final 12 minutes. And Oklahoma City is right behind them, having outscored their opponents by 17 points per 100 possessions in the fourth.

Home-court advantage could mean a lot

Since the NBA switched to the 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985, the team with the first two games at home has won 20 of the 27 series, a winning percentage of .741. When you compare that to a .661 winning percentage (37-19) for the team with home-court advantage in the conference finals (2-2-1-1-1 format) since '85, you see that the Heat have some tough odds to overcome.

Why? Perhaps because it's difficult to beat a Finals-worthy team three times in a row, even at home. Only two of the 27 teams with the middle three games at home -- the 2004 Pistons and 2006 Heat -- have won all three. One other -- the 1995 Rockets -- won the series in a sweep.

If the lower seed can't win all three of their home games, they have to win at least two on the road. The Mavs pulled it off last year. Can the Heat now do what was done to them?

All numbers courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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