Akshay Manwani Freelance writer based in Mumbai

In an attempt to rid himself of the perils of performance appraisals, Akshay ventured into the world of freelance writing where he combined his twin interests of sports and cinema. He has since contributed to The Caravan, BCCI.tv, Business Standard and Man's World, among other publications. He has followed the fortunes of the NBA since the early ’90s, an experience that has given him extraordinary moments of joy in an otherwise mundane existence.

All season long, Akshay will cover the League from the point of view of a basketball expert living in India. Follow him every week on NBA.com/india!

2012 NBA Finals Preview

It finally comes down to this. After a truncated regular season and a pulsating three rounds of the 2012 Playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder will battle it out against the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA finals. The fans couldn’t have asked for a better matchup given that the league’s scoring champion (Kevin Durant) will lead the Thunder out to battle against the league’s regular season MVP (LeBron James) and his Heat teammates in this year’s finals. Here is an in-depth look at how the two teams will matchup against each other over the next two weeks:

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat

Game 1: June 13, 2012 @ Oklahoma City – 6:30 AM (IST)

Series schedule:
Game 2 @ Oklahoma City – June 15 – 6:30 AM (IST)
Game 3 @ Miami - June 18 – 5:30 AM (IST)
Game 4 @ Miami - June 20 – 6:30 AM (IST)
Game 5*@ Miami - June 22 – 6:30 AM (IST)
Game 6*@ Oklahoma City - June 25 – 5:30 AM (IST)
Game 7* @ Oklahoma City – June 27 – 6:30 AM (IST)
*only if necessary

Home Court Advantage: Oklahoma City Thunder - Chesapeake Energy Arena. Miami to host Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airline Arena

Regular season series: Tied 1-1

2012 Playoffs Leader board:
Points-per-game: OKC Thunder – Kevin Durant (27.8); Miami Heat – LeBron James (30.8)
Rebounds-per-game: OKC Thunder – Kevin Durant (7.90); Miami Heat – LeBron James (9.60)
Assists-per-game: OKC Thunder – Russell Westbrook (5.60); Miami Heat – LeBron James (5.1)
Blocks-per-game: OKC Thunder – Serge Ibaka (3.27); Miami Heat – Dwyane Wade (1.33)

How they got here:
First-round - OKC Thunder beat Dallas Mavericks 4-0; Miami beat New York Knicks 4-1
Conference Semifinals – OKC Thunder beat Los Angeles Lakers 4-1; Miami beat Indiana Pacers 4-2
Conference Finals – OKC Thunder beat San Antonio Spurs 4-2; Miami beat Boston Celtics 4-3

Preview: At first look this is undoubtedly a battle between the big names of the game. Durant versus James is just the main draw, but Russell Westbrook and James Harden taking on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh adds to the excitement of these finals.

Equally, there’s a lot more on offer. The Thunder definitely have the edge so far as their supporting cast is concerned with Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher all having contributed solidly in the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. Nick Collison and Daequan Cook can also be called upon to contribute to the Thunder’s cause. Miami, on the other hand, with Bosh likely to play as a reserve at least in the first couple of games, cannot expect any real help coming from their reserves with Norris Cole, Joel Anthony, James Jones and Mike Miller coming off the bench.

Both teams have shot well in the postseason with OKC shooting a tad batter (46.9 percent from the field) than Miami (45.9). The Thunder, though, are definitely the better 3-point shooting team, having gone 37.4 percent from the distance in the postseason while Miami are only shooting at 32.5 percent from 3-point territory.

Defensively, Miami have kept teams down to just 88.11 points on an average in the postseason while OKC are allowing opponents 96.07 points per game. Both teams pressure teams with their defense, but Miami rely too heavily on James and Wade for their defensive intensity. OKC, meanwhile, are a better all-round defensive unit and definitely have a big size advantage in the frontcourt with Ibaka and Perkins in their ranks.

X-factor: Serge Ibaka will have a big role to play for the Thunder in limiting Chris Bosh. Besides that, Ibaka could also be called upon to defend James because Durant will give up a definite strength advantage to the MVP. If Ibaka can negate Bosh, help out on defending James and continue his stellar shot-blocking performance, OKC will have little to worry about on the defensive end.

Statistically, Dwyane Wade is having a poor postseason by his own high standards. He is averaging 22.9 PPG, his second lowest scoring average since the 2003-04 postseason when he went for just 18.0 PPG. But Wade doesn’t have to look any further than James, who played a phenomenal Game 6 against Boston, for inspiration. Also, unlike last year, where James’ fourth-quarter struggles were made out to be the reason for Miami’s loss to Dallas in the finals, there is a lot more focus on Wade this season and he cannot afford to slip up.

Numbers Game: This will be the fifth time since 1967 that the scoring champ and MVP will square off with a championship on the line. The last time the scoring champ and MVP met in The Finals was in 1997 when Michael Jordan's (scoring champion) Chicago Bulls knocked off Karl Malone's (MVP) Utah Jazz in six games. The scoring champion has won three out of four.

Akshay’s Take: In James, the Heat have the best basketball player in the world. A one-man basketball unit, who can score, defend, rebound and dish out assists if the need arises. The Heat also have more experience, having made it to the Finals last year. But OKC are a different breed. They have the better team, home-court advantage, as many game-winners as the Heat and are better rested than their opponents. OKC to win in six.

All stats are up to games played on June 13, 2012 (IST)