MIAMI, Fla.—- Yes, Christmas Day at AmericanAirlines Arena will feature a 2012 NBA Finals rematch. But for the Miami Heat it won't be with the same starting lineup. And for the Oklahoma City Thunder it won't be with the same rotation.
While most of a faces will be familiar Tuesday, there are subtle changes from the Heat's 4-1 victory over the Thunder in last season's best-of-seven championship series.
This time, it will be more of a classic power forward in the lineup for the Heat in Udonis Haslem, instead of stretch-four Shane Battier, who recently has shifted to a reserve role.
And for the Thunder, Kevin Martin now handles the sixth-man role previously taken by James Harden, who was traded in the preseason to the Houston Rockets.
"It's not much of a different look," Heat forward LeBron James said after Monday's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "They're missing Harden, but they have a nice piece in Kevin Martin. We have the same look, even though our lineup has changed."
Coach Erik Spoelstra downplayed Haslem starting alongside center Chris Bosh in place of Battier as any sort of seismic shift in the matchup.
"When we play with U.D. and Chris together, we're playing with the same alignment," Spoelstra said. "They're getting better at that. It's different than how we had them play together last year. So everything we're doing right now is with consistent spacing. I don't think it'll change much."
Spoelstra, though, said the downside of Harden being dealt is even more offensive freedom for Thunder scoring stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
"Are they different a little bit with Martin? Yeah," he said. "They run different actions. He plays off the ball more than Harden did. That puts the ball in Westbrook and Durant's hands more, and that is a challenge when you play them."
More than anything, Spoelstra said the Thunder are a team that is growing from within.
"I think people forget how young they are," he said. "Each year they have gone further in the playoffs, and they play like a veteran team.
"You probably, as a fan, forget that these guys are under the age of 25. And quite often, your biggest strides in development and improvement are before the ages of 26."
Factor in the Heat's offseason addition of Ray Allen and it's not exactly the mirror images of the teams that last meet on June 21 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
But they're close enough.
"I think it'll feel the same," Bosh said. "I mean, for the most part it's the same guys, the same nucleus on both sides. I know that they're going to be motivated."
That had Bosh reflecting on the visiting Heat routing the defending champion Dallas Mavericks on Christmas Day a year ago, after the Heat fell to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.
"We've been in their shoes," he said of the Thunder, "playing on Christmas against the team that put you out the year before. We know that they're going to come with a lot of intensity, and I think it's a really good chance for both teams to really prove what they can do."
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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