By Keith Antigiovanni
After a lockout in the first two months of the regular season and 23 weeks of regular/post season basketball the two participants of the NBA Finals are finally set.
The champions of the Eastern Conference, Miami Heat are in their second consecutive NBA Finals and third in the past 7 years. The Heat had a good regular season (46-20), a first round playoff sweep of the New York Knicks and two very turbulent playoff series against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics.
Since Lebron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami as a free agent almost two years ago the Heat were expected to not only win an NBA title but become a dynasty after James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh infamous press conference/ stage appearance.
Miami struggled at times in the 2010-2011 season but pulled it together in the playoffs and won the Eastern Conference only to lose against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. Coming into this year the pressure was even greater for the talented trio from South Beach and facing elimination twice against Boston this week Miami posted two resounding victories in games 6 and 7 to get another chance at a championship.
The champions of the Western Conference, Oklahoma City Thunder are in their first NBA Finals since 1996 when they were the Seattle Sonics but first Finals' since they moved to Oklahoma four years ago.
The Thunder have improved significantly every year since 2008-2009 when they were 23-59, the following they made the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round. In 2010-2011 Oklahoma City won the Northwest and reached the Western Conference Finals but like Miami lost to the Dallas Mavericks however the Thunder appeared to be a team on the rise.
In 2011-2012 the Thunder finished tied with the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference for the best record and won the Northwest again. Oklahoma City also managed to polish off the three Western Conference powers in consecutive playoff rounds.
They swept Dallas in four in the first round, defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the second round and knocked off the venerable San Antonio Spurs in 6 games after they were down 2-0.
In the process the Thunder become the first team besides Dallas, LA and San Antonio to win the Western Conference since the Utah Jazz in 1997-1998.
Game 1 will be on Tuesday and it will match the superstar-filled Miami Heat with all the pressure in the world on them against the built-from-scratch Oklahoma City Thunder who are young, athletic and appear to have no pressure on them.