FEATURED IMAGE CREDITS: Brian Babineau
The longest season in NBA history is finally coming to an end. A year ago, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat had finished the season outside of the playoffs both representing the 10th seed of their respective conference. Today, both teams have fought their way to the finals in a set of conditions unlike any other season. With all that being said, this is my NBA Finals Preview.
The Miami Heat
IMAGE CREDITS : Todd Kirkland
The Playoff Path
Coming into the bubble, it was unlikely that I would say that the Miami Heat would be the team to make it out of the Eastern Conference to reach the Finals. However, the Heat have been arguably one of the best teams within the bubble. Coming in, few teams had an understanding of their identity and each player on the team had a strong understanding of their role.
After easily dispatching the injury depleted Indiana Pacers in the first round, the Heat were viewed as major underdogs against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat were able to slow down MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo by rotating the players matched up with him and forcing Giannis into jump shots. With veterans like Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler stepping up and the unfortunate ankle injury of Giannis, the Heat took down the Bucks in 5 games.
Easily their biggest challenge to the finals came in the Eastern Conference Finals against the versatile and talented Boston Celtics. Talent wise, the Boston Celtics are the more talented team however the series came down to the coaching battle between Erik Spolstra and Brad Stevens. The Celtics struggled against the Heats variation of a 2-3 and 2-2-1 zone and along with players like Tyler Herro and Andre Igoudala stepping up in games 4 and 6. Despite being the 5 seed, the Heat have arrived to the finals with an impressive playoff record of 12-3.
Why They Can Win
Simply put, very few teams have an understanding of who they are and players who all understand their role the way the Miami Heat have. Their lack of a bona fide star may seem like a weakness, however every player on the floor for the Heat is a threat to score and allows for a balanced attack. Compared to the Lakers, the Heat have way more depth and reliable role players to come off the bench. In my opinion, the Heat have 8 different players that could easily start for the Lakers. Whether it is Duncan Robinson raining threes or Goran Dragic with an array of floaters and lay-ups, the Heat have plenty of weapons to get buckets.
A big advantage that I give to the Heat over the Lakers is in the coaching. No disrespect to coach Frank Vogel, but I feel that throughout the playoffs Spolstera has had the team working together as one cohesive unit and has shown why the term “heat culture” is so often thrown around. As the second longest tenured active coaches, Spolstra, with the help of president Pat Riley, has built a team of dogs who buy in to the defensive mindset of the team. Their personnel allows for multiple defensive looks whether it is zone and man, and the team will use multiple looks that the Lakers have not had to face up to this point.
X-Factors – Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson
The big names of the Heat are Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. I have no doubt that the all-stars are gonna bring their A-game for the series. The veterans, Goran Dragic and Andre Igoudala were also considered for the X-factor. However the two players that bring the Heat to the next level are Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. When these two players are hot, the whole Miami offense opens up due to the defensive attention they demand.
Although it is easy to categorize the two as Miami’s two white shooters, each bring a different dimension to the Miami offense. Duncan Robinson is easily one of the breakout stars from the year and fits the stereotype for the lights out shooter. This season he is averaging an incredible 44.6% 3-point percentage while attempting 8.3 3’s a game. Miami love to run him off handoffs and off-ball screens which combined with his lightning fast release, makes him a headache to guard.
Tyler Herro is a bucket. The rookie showed during game 4 of the Boston series what he can do as he dropped 37 points on the Celtics. Although Herro is a great shooter, his offense is more versatile than Robinson’s. Herro is capable at getting to the rim and setting up other teammates for open shots. But more importantly, Herro is a very efficient back-door cutter and it keeps the defense honest when they try to deny him off screens. I think the most impressive thing about Herro overall is his fearlessness, very few rookies are getting playoff minutes. Herro not only has earned the minutes, but he has earned the trust of his teammates to take bigtime shots in the fourth quarter.
MVP (if Heat win) – Bam Adebayo
The Kentucky product has come a long way since being drafted by the Heat in 2017. Bam will have a lot of responsibility this series as he will most likely be the primary defender on Anthony Davis, while he will also have to deal with the Lakers big man duo of Javale McGee and Dwight Howard. If the Heat want a chance to upset the Lakers, Bam has to control the boards over the Laker bigs.
The Los Angeles Lakers
IMAGE CREDITS : Kim Klement
The Playoff Path
Championship or bust. That has always been the Lakers mindset since the season started and they spent the whole season showing that. Coming into the bubble as the West’s one seed, they showed teams that they were not messing around. Although the Blazers scared the Lakers in game 1, the Lakers completed the gentleman’s sweep.
The Rockets seemed to be a threat going into the second series, as they had the star power to rival the Laker’s stars. However the small ball revolution could not last as the Lakers went to AD and Lebron to complete a second gentleman’s sweep. Lastly the Lakers took care of the bubble darlings in the Denver Nuggets. With an equal 12-3 record to the Heat, the Lakers have flexed their dominance throughout the playoff run and look to close the season with a championship to honor Kobe Bryant.
Why They Can Win
Very rarely do you ever see a duo as great as Lebron James and Anthony Davis on the same team at the same time. The only duos that rival the two are Kobe and Shaq, MJ and Pippen, and Magic and Kareem. Whether it is going to AD at the elbow or high post, or just letting Lebron work in isolation, the offense revolves around the two stars and no team has yet to find a defense to stop the two future hall of famers.
Furthermore the defense of the Lakers has been amazing throughout the year. Guards and wings for the most part focus on defense due to Lebron and AD handling the offensive load. Danny Green, KCP, and Caruso can focus on being pest on defense while their offensive responsibilities are as simple as spotting up for 3s. The team has two defensive anchors in Dwight Howard and Javale McGee although the speed of the game may take the two big men out of the game.
X-Factors – Rajon Rondo and Kyle Kuzma
Although Lebron and AD are all-time greats, they are going to need help if they are going to overcome the Heat. Kyle Kuzma, coming into the season, was viewed as the 3rd option and for the most part has lived up to the roll as he’s the only player besides the Laker duo scoring in double figures. However throughout the playoffs, Kuzma has been almost invisible in games. If Kuzma can pick up some slack on offense, it could help relieve the stress and focus that Lebron and AD are going to receive from Miami’s long aggressive defenders.
Rondo is no longer the lightning fast, athletic rangy guard that people think of when he was a Boston Celtic. Instead the Laker version of Rondo is a savvy veteran who can run the second unit and be a commander at both ends of the court. While Rondo was out with a hand injury during the beginning of the playoffs, the Lakers tended to understandably struggle without Lebron on the court to command the office. Once Rondo returned, the Lakers second unit became a lot better with Rondo being the second best playmaker on the team.
Rondo is the embodiment of the coach on the court and I think he’s going to be able to take advantage of the Heat’s younger guards down the stretch. Furthermore his improved jump shot allows him to be part of the Lakers closing 5.
MVP (if Lakers win) – Lebron James
Picking Lebron feels like the easy answer, but honestly it’s probably the right answer. Nine of the last ten NBA Finals have featured Lebron James. Every year Lebron brings it in the Finals and I doubt that will change this year.
IMAGE CREDITS: BaltimoreSportsandLife.com
What I Think Will Happen: Lakers in 5
It is hard to root against an unstoppable force like Lebron James. Looking back at his career it took some of the all time great teams to take Lebron down in the Finals, and as much as I respect the Heat and how they have gotten here, they don’t have enough to stop the star power the Lakers have. I think the Heat have the attitude and fight within them to steal a game, however I think this is the Lakers series to lose.
What I’m Rooting For: Heat in 7
As a Floridian I feel like I have to root Miami. What is there to hate about the Heat. The team has come in with a self assured confidence that no fifth seed team should have. Duncan Robinson’s journey is awe inspiring and the Heat throughout the bubble have been a joy to watch, whether it’s their use of zone defense or their fluid offense.
It’s hard not to root for the underdog, and the cast of characters the Heat have on their team make them even more likable. They definitely will have me rooting for them throughout the series.