It has been an absolutely crazy season in the Association, and we’ve finally reached the NBA Finals nearly a full calendar year after the 2019-20 campaign got underway last October. While LeBron James and the Lakers being in this position is no surprise, very few saw Jimmy Butler’s Heat making it this far.
The Lakers are the heavy Vegas favorite in these Finals, and for good reason. They have the two best players in the series in LeBron and Anthony Davis, and both guys have been playing at an extremely high level throughout the postseason. Toss in some #PlayoffRondo magic plus an elite defense and you have a team that has taken care of business relatively easily in the playoffs, even despite losing Game 1s in each of the first two series.
Rajon Rondo has indeed been a revelation for the Lakers after missing a ton of time with a hand injury and then back spasms. Similarly to his time with the Bulls, his play in the regular season has been a major source of angst for Lakers fans, only for him to turn it on come playoff time. He’s providing the extra source of playmaking they needed, playing hard on defense and even shooting nearly 45% on 3-pointers.
Of course, the most exciting matchups to watch involve the stars: Jimmy vs. LeBron (a fun throwback for Bulls fans) and Bam vs. AD. Jimmy isn’t going to outplay LeBron, but coming close would be huge for Miami. The Heat have a number of other bodies they can throw at James to make him work, including Butler, Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala and perhaps even Bam at times.
Adebayo’s development this season has been incredible, and he was a monster against Boston as both an offensive hub (hope the Bulls and Wendell Carter Jr. are taking notes!) and defensive anchor. Going against Davis and LeBron is a whole different beast, though, so we’ll see if the 23-year-old can keep up his terrific play.
I have my doubts about the Heat being able to score effectively against the Lakers’ elite defense, but Miami’s offense has scored at an impressively high level in these playoffs against some other strong defensive squads. The Heat scored 113.4 points per 100 possessions in the first three rounds, using impressive ball movement (65.9 AST%), a lot of free throws (A Butler specialty) and timely shooting to score. While Miami’s 3-point shooting has been just okay overall in the playoffs (barely better than the Lakers), guys like Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic and Crowder are dangerous (Crowder has been slumping lately).
Miami has been especially strong in close games, racking up a 135.4 offensive rating and 92.9 defensive rating in 41 clutch minutes this postseason. Butler has been a two-way menace in crunch time, often pacing himself throughout games before taking over late. Dragic and Herro have also been big shotmakers.
I don’t know if Jimmy can afford to pace himself quite as much against this Lakers team. Trusting his teammates has worked to this point, but he might have to be a bit more aggressive looking to score to win the title.
The Lakers have been dominant in the playoffs, recording a 115.6 offensive rating and 107.8 defensive rating. They can play both big or small, giving them plenty of versatility. They’re extremely dangerous on the break and are great at turning defense into offense. The Heat will try to keep them out of transition and stagnate them in half-court situations, using their zone defense in an attempt to flummox them. But that’s easier said than done, especially with guys like LeBron and AD to break down the zone.
Ultimately, I think the Lakers win this series in five or six games, but I’ve been wrong about the Heat in the last two series. Erik Spoelstra is an excellent coach who will have his guys fighting to the end, but I just can’t see LeBron and AD being denied.