With the NBA Finals starting today, it's time to predict who will come out of this series with the Larry O'Brien trophy.
When the NBA season began all the way back in October, it was quite clear the Los Angeles Lakers would be title contenders. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the helm, this team was destined for greatness. Upon adding a multitude of experienced role players to the mix, it was obvious that the legendary franchise was going all-in on this season. While there were certainly some speed bumps along the way, the Lakers mostly dominated the season, and come playoff time, they skated into the Finals thanks to the Nuggets taking out the Clippers prior to the Western Conference Finals. That is not to say the Lakers don't deserve to be here. They do. Like any NBA Finals team, you're going to need some luck along the way, and the Lakers certainly got that as well.
As for the Miami Heat, well, some pundits thought the team would be lucky to make it to the playoffs. With Dwyane Wade's retirement from the NBA, the Heat needed a superstar and luckily for them, a burgeoning one fell into their lap, as Jimmy Butler made it clear he wanted to play down South. Due to his actions over the last few seasons in regards to his teammates, some felt he would be too much of a problem in the locker room. In the end, all of these naysayers were proved wrong, almost immediately. Thanks to a strong start to the season, the Heat immediately became an upper-echelon team in the Eastern Conference. Once the bubble started, the Heat took their game to another level and decimated their competition. Just like the Lakers, they were helped by some advantageous playoff matchups and are now Finals bound.
So here we are, 11 months after the season officially began, and the Finals are finally happening. For LeBron and the Lakers, this championship is about a multitude of things. On one hand, it's about building on to LeBron's legacy and decimating the narratives about his Finals record. It's also about winning in memory of Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed away back in January. As for players like Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and some of the younger guys on the roster, it's all about proving their worth and securing that first title. Meanwhile, the Heat are underdogs and for Jimmy Butler and company, this will be about proving people wrong, once and for all.
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But who will win? Well, the answer to that question is always a lot more complicated than one might assume. There are plenty of factors that go into a playoff series. Defensive schemes, shooting ability, rotations, coaching, depth; all of these are important when determining who should come out on top. When it comes to this series, however, one could just look at the rosters and make the argument that the Lakers will win with ease. Typically, this would be correct, but it's 2020 we're talking about, which means anything can happen. So let's take a look at the facts and draw some conclusions from them, shall we?
The easiest metric to look at is how these teams stacked up against one another in the regular season. They played against each other twice, with the Lakers winning both games. In November, the Lakers won their first matchup by a score of 95-80. LeBron and AD combined for 51 points while many Heat players struggled, notably Bam Adebayo. During the second game, LeBron and AD increased their point totals as they combined for 63 points. The rest of the Heat squad improved considerably from the first game, as guys like Derrick Jones Jr and Kendrick Nunn scored 17 and 16 points, respectively. What was apparent during these games is that the Heat didn't have much of an answer for LeBron nor Davis. On offense, the Heat struggled heavily, with big men like Davis clogging up the lanes. Of course, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra knows exactly what he's doing, and over the course of the last few days, we're sure he's been showing his team film of these previous matchups. Regardless, these early games are still important.
In terms of how these teams are playing right now, well, they're both playing at the highest levels they have all season. The Lakers' chemistry has been nothing short of phenomenal and depending on the matchup, head coach Frank Vogel has a plethora of utility players at his disposal to create rotations. Against the Rockets, the Lakers went small and against Denver, they went big. They can adapt to any team's roster in order to give themselves an advantage, which isn't something the Heat can do as seamlessly. LeBron has ascended to another level and he seems determined as ever to get that fourth ring. Davis and the rest of the Lakers are also reaching new heights, which has allowed them to maneuver so easily through the playoffs. The Heat, on the other hand, have been great when it comes to spreading out the ball. While the Lakers rely on AD and James to score most of their points, the Heat have been getting scoring from everyone. On some nights, Jimmy Butler could be on fire, with Goran Dragic having an off game. Other nights, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson show out, with Butler taking a backseat. The Heat play like a team with no egos, and in the playoffs, that's exactly what you need. With that being said, the Lakers still average about a point more per game than the Heat, which gives them a slight offensive advantage.
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Despite both teams having 12-3 records, it's clear that the Lakers had a tougher road. To start the postseason, they played a hungry Trail Blazers team, while the Heat were given an injured and out-of-sorts Pacers squad. From there, the Lakers played the Rockets who looked great in the seeding round and were many people's dark horse to win it all. Sure, the Heat played the first place Bucks but by the time the playoffs came around, Milwaukee was devoid of chemistry, all while Giannis Antetokounmpo was injured. Finally, the Lakers were forced to play the Denver Nuggets who boast superstars like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. This team knocked off the Clippers, yet the Lakers were able to dismantle them in a short time. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat faced off against a formidable Boston Celtics squad but chemistry issues and a lack of compete level led to their demise. Once you string these factors together, it's clear the Lakers had to fight much harder to get where they are now.
This all leads us to our final predictions for this series. Given the Lakers talent, experience, and motivations, it seems pretty obvious that they are going to win this series. That's not to say the Heat won't give them problems. Realistically, this series will most likely play out like the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers will be pushed to their limits thanks to the Heat's determination, but at the end of the day, the better team is going to prevail in a swift manner.
Lakers in five.