A whole new game. I'd like to give the NBA's marketing team an A+ for this slogan, because I don't think anything encapsulates the wild ride that the 2020 NBA bubble has led us all on. While the Lakers were an expected participant in this year's finals, the Miami Heat's 2020 run has been nothing short of historic. Major moves, an unexpected rest period, and unsung heroes have all played into making the first Finals this decade one of the best of all-time. Here's what you should be looking out for as you sit down to watch game one tonight.
What This Championship Means for the Miami Heat
For many fans, the biggest storyline surrounding the Miami Heat is that they're facing not only a former player, but a former player whose number should hang in their rafters in the future. If you want to debate me on that, hit my twitter.
However, barring any connections to LeBron James, the story of this Heat team on their own is historic enough. The lowest seed to make a finals since 1999, after missing the playoffs the year before, taking down a championship favorite featuring the most recent MVP, is really showing that the bubble is any man's game.
In terms of what this means for the players, Jimmy Butler is going into this series with the biggest chip on his shoulder. After leaving his last two teams on shaky-at-best terms, Butler is here to prove that he can be an effective leader on a Championship team. When asked in yesterday's press conference about how he's been treated by Miami, Butler expressed a noticeable improvement; "I just get to be me here. I get to call it how I see it. Nobody takes it personally. I don't have to worry about anybody trying to control me, as it was said people were trying to do over there [in Philly]. But I have no hard feelings towards any of those players, anybody in that organization. I'm glad to be where I am. As you can tell, it's worked out, and that's where I'll leave it."
Butler is putting up decent numbers in these playoffs, averaging just over 20 points along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and is supplemented by a few Miami players far exceeding expectations. Bam Adebayo, first drafted by the Heat in 2017, is putting up career numbers in these playoffs, averaging 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. He hasn't come up short in clutch moments either, most notably with his block to seal game one of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics.
It would be a disservice to mention the Heat's current run without talking about the guys in the suits, namely Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. Assembling the big three is all-time great achievement in it's own right, but to create another championship roster in such a short time after LeBron's departure? That's GOAT stuff right there, man. As for Erik Spoelstra, I think a championship this year would actually have a retrospective improvement on his role in Miami's 2012 and 2013 championships.
What This Championship Means for the Los Angeles Lakers
Sorry to all of the Laker-haters out there, but if a Disney movie were to be made of this year's NBA Finals, I would cast LA as the good guys. I know it's hard to say that for a franchise with sixteen titles and two of the best players in the game, but it's true. Despite an amazing offseason which saw their addition of Anthony Davis shoot them up to favorites in the sportsbooks, the fact that they made the finals after a six year playoff drought is still an astounding bounce-back.
With a win in this series, the Lakers will tie the Boston Celtics for the most championships in NBA history, and if that tie can be broken in a Lakers-Celtics series within the next few years, it would be nothing short of historic. Winning this championship shortly after the passing of Kobe Bryant is also a driving force within this LA locker room. Their use of the Mamba jerseys in this postseason is certainly emblematic of that.
However, as weird as it sounds considering he's playing for one of the most storied franchises in sports, I really think LeBron's resilience is the biggest storyline for the Lakers this year. If the Lakers win these Finals, anyone who excludes LeBron from the GOAT debate is inherently biased. I'm not saying that a 2020 ring puts him solely at the top, I'm just saying that winning a fourth championship, on three different teams, in the same season he finished second in MVP voting, AT AGE THIRTY FIVE, is pretty neat. LeBron has gone on record this year saying that despite making his tenth NBA Finals, it will mean nothing to him unless he comes home with a win. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to be the one to call a guy like LeBron on his bluff.
How the Heat Can Win
The Heat have been absolutely electric behind the three-point line, due in large part to their ball movement and ability to find the open man on a quick moment's notice. The Lakers have been playing great defense this postseason, especially behind the arc, giving up just 32.9 attempts per game. However, the Lakers have taken note of the Heat's ball movement, complimenting their unselfishness on offense. If Miami can spread out the Lakers defense, there's a good chance they can keep it close.
If the Heat can't connect from three, they shouldn't be too worried as long as Bam Adebayo is having a good night. Throughout the playoffs, we've seen Adebayo dominate on both sides of the ball, leading Miami in rebounds, assists, and blocks this postseason. It's going to be a tough matchup for Anthony Davis defensively when Adebayo tries to attack the rim, which Davis has admitted himself. Defensively, I think Adebayo will be able to lock down Davis as he did Giannis in the East semis, and if he falters, Jae Crowder serves as a decent defensive backup.
How the Lakers Can Win
While I think Miami's size has worked out much to their benefit, their toughest front court match up comes in the form of the Lakers. Anthony Davis, along with either Javale McGee or Dwight Howard at the 5, have grabbed nearly thirty percent of their own offensive boards these playoffs, meaning that Adebayo is going to have to work even harder in the defensive paint. In terms of advantages for AD in his matchup with Bam, Davis is overall the more versatile player. Along with having to guard Davis in the paint, Bam will have to come up with a solution for shutting down Davis' jump shot, as he has shot 36.6 percent from three. Although this is off of less than three attempts per game, Davis' three point shooting could be devastating for an unsuspecting Miami defense.
In terms of defense overall, however, it's going to be a uphill battle initially for Los Angeles. Miami has been praised with their zone defense this postseason, and could use it to force Miami to take more jump shots. While the Celtics were able to overcome this zone by just getting a lot better with their jump shots (46 threes shot in game 6!!), I don't think Los Angeles is going to have as much of a problem given their size. In both of their meetings during the regular season, the Lakers were able to pick apart Miami by letting Anthony Davis lead a powerful pick-and-roll. Miami knew this too, and pretty much stopped using the zone entirely in their second meeting this year. If Miami's main defensive asset is useless, what's stopping LA from taking home an easy chip?
Basel's Gambling Garden Pick for Game 1:
As dominant as the Lakers have been this postseason, they struggled in their opening games against Portland and Houston. LeBron served as more of a playmaker in both of those losses, which could arguably have been the Lakers' downfall both times. Miami's shooting is going to keep this a close one, but I don't like their chances of winning this one outright. Expect them to cover in a single digit loss.
My Pick: Miami Heat +4.6 (-110)
The House Predicts:
Here's how a few of our own here at House Enterprise think the series will go down.
Sam Basel: I see the Heat posing a threat to LA early on due to their unpredictability, but not being able to sustain an effective defense. Lakers win 4-2.
Chris Hanold: Jordan would have swept. Lakers win 4-2.
James Mas: Lakers win 4-1
Eddy Szalan: Heat win 4-3