It’s finally here. After what feels like forever, we’ve arrived at the NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers soared to greatness this season, but in a classic David and Goliath tale that’s as old as time, the upstart Miami Heat intend to put their youth to work to take down a bigger, and more experienced foe. Let’s break it down.
Iestyn Harris’ Predictions
These cross-conference foes are truly at opposite ends of the spectrum. One is a star-studded powerhouse led by potentially one of the greatest players of all time and the most physically dominant power-forward/center in the NBA. The other is a ramshackle truckload of the most surprising rookie contenders, a few elite role-players, and the galvanizing Jimmy Butler tying it all together. The Lakers have swept the season series this season, as well as the last, but that hardly says anything; This Heat team are different from the one we knew before. Their series ended in early December and, having not met up since, these teams only know what to expect based on film. The lack of familiarity could benefit the Heat, who have been surprising everyone since the bubble opened.
The Lakers do a lot of things very well, and they’ll need to focus on a few of them in order to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien trophy. They’ll need to attack the Heat’s zone defense by placing their big men in the center of the zone and giving them the ball to collapse it. Expect Anthony Davis to see a starring role in the heart of this movement, and taking a lot of spot-up short range shots and no-dribble layups unguarded around the charity stripe. Getting a lead and making the smart play when they have it will be crucial to their continued success, so their assist total will take a leap in the second half if they can start out hot. The Heat have been predominantly slow to get going in the early stages this postseason, so if L.A. can keep their foot on the gas, this could be a short series.
The Heat will need help to tackle this behemoth Lakers team, and here’s how they can get it done. Bam Adebayo will be the main focus of their offense, as he collapses the defense much like the Lakers will need Anthony Davis to do. Bam’s team-leading 36.8 minutes per game this postseason are indicative of how important his role under the basket is for Miami, on both ends of the floor, as he also leads the team in rebounds per game with 11.4 (2.7 on offense, 8.7 on defense). Effective ball-distribution is equally important for Miami, who has 4 starters averaging 3.9+ assist per game. Finding the open man was the secret to their second to league-best 3-point percentage through the regular season, and they’ll need to keep the ball moving on offense in order to keep them in the game against a dominant and unforgiving opponent.
This Heat team did so much more than anyone could have expected this postseason. They swept the Indiana Pacers out of the 1st round, then manhandled the supposed ‘best team in the NBA’ Milwaukee Bucks in only 5 games. The Celtics put up a great fight and, truth be told, could probably have won the series if not for the heroics of Miami’s rookie SG Tyler Herro. It’s astonishing how they overcame every obstacle and fought through every change of dynamic, swap of tactics, and heartbreak to build one of the most incredible postseason runs in recent memory. The Lakers surprised no-one. They didn’t need to make shocking comebacks, epic plays, timely blocks and steals to edge out the opposition. They played the same fundamentally sound basketball that they’ve been playing all season and it won’t change now. In another year, a better year, the Heat might have had what it takes to complete their ‘Cinderella story’ and own a championship. This isn’t that year.
Lakers in 5
Deonta Saleem’s Prediction
With the NBA Finals matchup set, we have the Miami Heat v. the Los Angeles Lakers. This matchup has plenty of storylines behind, from LeBron James facing off against his old team, to Jimmy Butler leading the underdog Miami Heat team to their first finals since 2014, and everything in between.
Game 1: Wednesday – 9:00pm/et, ABC pic.twitter.com/VyGHPNklUI
— NBA (@NBA) September 29, 2020
Here are each team’s strengths and weaknesses:
Strengths: The simple fact that their all-star players Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo can have off nights, and they have guys like Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Goran Dragic can carry the offense is something that many teams around the NBA don’t have. They have 7 guys who average double-digits, with a lot of shooters.
The rotation of different kinds of defenders they can throw at LeBron James is also something noteworthy. Jimmy Butler is one of the best defenders in the NBA, Jae Crowder who is a solid defender, plus Andre Iguladola even though he’s not the same player he was back in 2015, he has some of the quickest hands in the NBA. Their three-point shooting and defense will be very key to them winning the series. I won’t say that coach Erik Spoelstra “knows how to scheme for LeBron” because he’s the best player in the NBA, but it’s definitely something to pay attention too.
If there’s a coach that knows how to scheme against LeBron, it’s Spoelstra
— Sam (@CowNBA) September 28, 2020
Weaknesses: They don’t have anyone to keep up with LeBron James or Anthony Davis. They’re clearly the two best players in the series, and if they’re clicking on all cylinders, they are going to have a rough time. I think they’ll struggle more with Anthony Davis than LeBron because they don’t have the same bunch of defenders to go up against AD vs. the defenders they have for LeBron.
Los Angeles Lakers
Strengths: Motivated players. Dwight Howard is trying right his wrong for what happened in LA back in 2013 when he left in free agency after a year filled with disaster. Anthony Davis finally has his first taste of true playoff success after 7 years of mediocrity in New Orleans, mixed with the death of Kobe Bryant earlier in the year, carrying the Laker legacy is big for everyone involved.
Outside of the death of Kobe, LeBron James might have an underlying bit of motivation, aiming towards Miami’s team president, Pat Riley. Riley made a comment a year after LeBron returned to Cleveland for his second go-around, saying that his franchise was free of people with “smiling faces with hidden agendas”. It was also rumored that as LeBron was leaving Miami, he was told that he had made the worse decision of his career.
“There were some people that I trusted and built relationships with in those four years [who] told me I was making the biggest mistake of my career.”
With everything that has gone on in 2020 and the things said by the very organization that LeBron helped lead to two championships, expect LeBron to step his game up another level.
Weaknesses: Their bench is nowhere near to the level of Miami. Even though they are clearly the two best players in this series by far, you cannot only rely on two guys to defeat an entire team. Look back at the 2004 NBA finals, Shaq averaged 26.6 points and 10.6 rebounds and Kobe averaged 22.6 points, no one else averaged more than 6 points per game. I’m not saying anyone on the Lakers will be that bad, but if the others for the Lakers match what the Heat others do, or contain them as much as possible, I think it will be a 7 game series.
LeBron says playing and living in the bubble was a big challenge: “Feels like five years. But I’m more locked in than I’ve ever been in my career.” (via @GwashburnGlobe)
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) September 29, 2020
My prediction: I think the Miami Heat have a championship mentality, but I don’t think they have the star power that the Lakers have. Mixed with the motivation and storyline that LA has, I don’t think they’ll let this opportunity slip away.
Lakers in 6
Logan MacDonald’s Prediction
Nothing makes a better headline than LeBron James chasing his fourth NBA Finals victory against his old championship-winning team: the Miami Heat. It’s the perfect mix of underdog versus the hero story. When Kobe Bryant passed away tragically alongside his thirteen-year-old daughter in a helicopter crash back in January, it shook the basketball world to its core. Kobe Bryant is synonymous with greatness and one of the greatest and most influential sports icons in the history of sports. It has always been Kobe, LeBron, and Michael Jordan discussed as the indisputable top three players of all time. Now, LeBron James has taken Kobe’s old team, the Los Angeles Lakers, to the NBA Finals for the first time since Kobe took them there himself. Furthermore, he’ll be doing against the Miami Heat who last went to an NBA Finals when it was James himself who took them there. If that isn’t the most incredible NBA Finals headline ever then I don’t know what is.
Not only is this huge for Los Angeles to win it in Kobe’s honor and for James to beat his old team and come two championships closer to Michael Jordan’s prolific six, but this has the makings of possible underdog history for the Heat. Miami came into this NBA Playoffs as the fifth seed and a whopping twelve wins behind the one seed Milwaukee Bucks led by the back-to-back NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Very few people (if any) were heard calling Miami’s name when talking about the championship hopefuls this season across the league. Well, Miami started making some noise when they swept the Pacers in the first round and won every game by 9+ points. Then they shocked the world and nearly swept the one-seed Bucks, beating them 5-1 in the series. Their last hurdle was dismantling the Celtics, which they did in six games to secure a spot in the finals.
It’s an underdog story versus the superstar duo of James and Davis. It’s LeBron’s old team versus his honoring of Kobe’s memory. It’s Miami versus Los Angeles. Ultimately, this is a matchup made for the ages.
Miami is a deep team and reminds me quite a bit of last year’s Toronto Raptors squad. Miami doesn’t just rely upon any one player to take over and has four players averaging 16+ points per game this playoffs. Having a variety of people who can score and carry their weight any given night is needed in the modern-day NBA. Additionally, Jimmy Butler is averaging 1.9 steals per game this playoffs and provides an invaluable wing defender to Miami. Their issue however will be the same that Houston had with Los Angeles: they’re small. Miami has no center listed on the roster and their two biggest players are the 6’11” Kelly Olynk off the bench and their 6’9″ starting Power Forward Bam Adebayo. This will likely cause monumental rebounding and interior offensive and defensive issues for Miami as the Lakers boast the imposing big-man defensive and glass-cleaning trio of Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and Javale McGee.
If Miami wants to win this series, it will have to come from the perimeter as they don’t have the size to match up with the Lakers’ bigs. This looks like a promising resolution on paper as Miami has three players with six or more three-point attempts who are shooting 35% from downtown this playoffs. However, teams that have relied upon the three-point shot like Houston and Portland fell flat against Los Angeles as they were harassed by the Lakers’ imposing perimeter defenders of Danny Green, Alex Caruso, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Los Angeles hasn’t even seen a game six yet these entire playoffs and I don’t see that changing.
The Lakers simply are too well rounded of a team with plus defending both inside and on the perimeter and the offensive bigs to bully Miami’s size deficit, while also providing shooters from downtown and the ability to stretch the court with James, Davis, Pope, Green, and Markieff Morris. Additionally, winning this one for Kobe while also getting to beat his old team is too sweet for LeBron. This Lakers team is dominant and has all the motivation in the world to dominate this series. And they will.
Prediction: Lakers in 5