Ignou Assignment 12-13 Heat

And while the Heat are still resented in many precincts, they apparently no longer inspire the fear and loathing that shrouded the first year of the James-Wade-Bosh alliance. They are not even favored in this series.

Las Vegas oddsmakers are listing the Oklahoma City Thunder as the favorites to win the championship — at 10-to-17 odds by the sports book Bovada.lv. The Heat are listed at 3 to 2. This is not just about public sentiment, the lingering anti-James backlash, but the tangible sense that the Thunder are simply the better team.

The Thunder have just as much star power, in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but with a superior supporting cast — from the shot-blocking Serge Ibaka to the bruising big man Kendrick Perkins to Derek Fisher, a veteran of five N.B.A. championships with a knack for clutch 3-pointers.

Two years after uniting James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat are still searching for reliable role players, or even a solid starting center. They needed seven games to dispatch the aging Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, and at one point they trailed the Indiana Pacers in the semifinals (2-1) before winning in six games.

James has put together one of the greatest postseasons in history, averaging 30.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. But Wade has been uncharacteristically erratic, struggling to score at times against the Pacers and Celtics. Bosh missed nine games over the last two series after straining an abdominal muscle, turning a spotlight on Miami’s glaring lack of depth.

“We’ve dealt with many things in our short time together,” Bosh said, “and the fact that we’re not always the favorite, I think, is a great position to be in. But that really doesn’t matter. We were the favorites last year, and look what happened.”

The Thunder present more than just a momentary obstacle in James’s quest for his first ring. They are a long-term threat to the Heat’s preeminence. Oklahoma City’s core players — Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka — are 23 or younger. The Thunder are the second-youngest team ever to make the finals, according to Basketball-Reference.com. If the front office can manage the salary cap over the next few years (as Harden and Ibaka come due for extensions), the Thunder might displace the Heat as the league’s most feared team.

For now, the Thunder’s youth could be considered their greatest disadvantage. This is the first trip to the finals for their young stars. Of Oklahoma City’s main rotation players, only Perkins and Fisher have won championships.

But Fisher, who won his titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, said the Thunder had the right mix of youth and veterans, and enough talent and athleticism to overcome the inexperience.

“We’re not here by accident,” he said. “We’re not of the belief that this is an apprenticeship and we’re just here to learn and then maybe next time we’ll figure it out.”

The Thunder earned the home-court advantage in this series with a 47-19 regular-season record (the third best in the league) and by grinding through the most grueling possible path to the finals. Round by round, they defeated the West’s three most recent champions — first the Mavericks (4-0), then the Lakers (4-1) and finally the San Antonio Spurs (4-2). The Spurs had won 20 straight games before the Thunder, after falling behind two games to none, beat them four in a row.

“There really wasn’t no free ride for us this playoffs,” said Perkins, who won a title with the Celtics in 2008. “I think we’re battle-tested and mentally ready.”

If the Thunder are emboldened by their young legs and exuberance, the Heat come hardened and chastened by their failure in 2011, readily admitting that the sting has not faded.

“It’s with me now,” Bosh said. “It never left any of us.”

When he spoke of the Heat’s finals experience, Bosh painted it in dark terms.

“We have experience with the bad part, with the pain and the suffering that comes with it,” he said. “I think that’s something that can really help us as this series goes on.”

Even James, whose bravado and promise of multiple titles alienated legions of fans two years ago, has adopted a softer, more reflective tone. He said he feels “more at ease” now than he did a year ago.

“I played too much to prove people wrong last year,” James said, “instead of just playing my game and doing what needs to be done.”

He added: “At the end of the day, whatever the results happen, I’m going to be satisfied with that. I’m going to be happy with it, because I know I’m going to give it my all, and I won’t leave nothing behind.”

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