As the Miami Heat and Oklahoma Thunder gear up for Game 5, possibly the final game of the series, analysts and fans have been sharing their predictions of which team, and which players, will likely dominate and score the championship title.
The Miami Heat, led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, are ahead in the series 3-1, winning the previous game 104-98. Having missed out on nabbing the championship last year, fans are hoping the team will finally shine and bring home a second trophy — and that James will win his first championship ring after nine years in the NBA.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, meanwhile, has been struggling and lacking in what many observers say is team effort — Kevin Durant (looking for his first ring) and James Harden have consistently been putting in much of the work. Coming into the finals (for the first time since 1996) as the underdog, despite surprising fans by knocking off top teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and the San Antonio Spurs, earlier in the playoffs, the Thunder will have to dig deep and play hard to push the series to a Game 6, which they will have to win to tie the series -- assuming OKC can keep James, Wade, Chris Bosh and other power Heat players in check.
Here's a wrap-up from around the Web on what viewers can likely expect heading into Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, where the OKC Thunder be in Miami fighting for the win.
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The Miami Herald: Joseph Goodman, writing with the headline "Miami Heat within reach of second NBA title," reminds fans about the team's painful 2011 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on their very own home court.
"The Heat lost it all on its home court last year," writes Goodman. "On Thursday, in the team's final home game of the year, Bosh and the Heat can finally put that memory to rest." Bosh, who took it exceptionally hard when his teammates were denied the championship last year, is intent on making sure history does not repeat itself. As Goodman writes, "no team in the history of the league has lost a championship after leading 3-1 in the Finals."
"We know what's at stake," Bosh has said. "We know this is the last home game no matter what happens, and we're a good home team. Just to be able to have this opportunity, you can't let it slip by."
The Los Angeles Times: Chuck Schilken, while avoiding predictions, ponders what NBA fans might think if James, who joined the Heat last year and has ruffled a few feathers and been called a few unflattering names, does indeed emerge as the 2012 Finals winner.
"A year ago there probably would have been a lot of anger among passionate NBA fans -- even those outside of Cleveland — in the aftermath of 'The Decision,' the over-the-top celebration with Miami fans before even playing a game with the team, James' bold prediction that the Heat would win at least eight championships ('not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven ...') and more," writes Schilken.
Schilken's poll asking readers "How will you feel if LeBron James becomes an NBA champion?" reveals that from among 4,174 votes, 49.11 percent (2,050) would feel "great" if James won, while 30.88 percent (1,289) would feel "terrible." There were 835 voters (20 percent) who could apparently care less either way.
USA Today: Adi Joseph reminds fans that despite what appears to be Miami's many advantages: "The Thunder counter with three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, athletic point guard Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the NBA's sixth man of the year."
Lining up the advantages and disadvantages of players, positions and coaches, Joseph concludes his predictions with the "X Factor," writing:
"Bosh, James and Wade have been under the microscope since uniting before last season, and the criticism peaked after the 2011 Finals. How they perform in a repeat trip will be crucial. In the past 40 seasons, teams are 7-3 in the NBA Finals one season after losing in them.
"Oklahoma City has been one year away for three years. Now, they're here. The Thunder's youth — Durant and Westbrook are 23, and Harden and Ibaka are 22 — belies their experience, but how they play together will dictate their success."
According to Joseph, the Heat have the advantage here, but the Thunder will win in seven games with Kevin Durant getting the MVP award.
The Associated Press: Brian Mahoney, making sure to note that "nobody has ever rallied from that deficit in the finals," also suggests that NBA fans "don't write off the Thunder just yet."
"Oklahoma City has had stretches where it clearly looks like the better team. The Thunder scored 58 second-half points in their Game 1 win, opened a 10-point lead in the third quarter of Game 3, then burst to a 17-point cushion in the first 11-plus minutes of Game 4," writes Mahoney. Reminding fans of how OKC barreled through the San Antonio Spurs to make it to the finals, he adds "...don't tell the Thunder they can't do it again."
Among spectators making predictions, Metta WorldPeace (@MettaWorldPeace) confessed: "I want Lebron to win to shut up the haters but I think okc will win the finals in seven." WorldPeace, who plays for the Lakers, had his comment re-tweeted 273 times.
Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) of ESPN also weighed in, with a passionate tweet: "Said it before, say it again... This series is NOT over, it will NOT end tonight... OKC will win and force game six."
Michael Jordan, who won six MVP titles during his NBA career, apparently disagrees. The NBA champ reportedly also predicted that the Heat will win tonight's game, airing at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.