There were many people who fully expected the Los Angeles Lakers to be in the NBA Finals. But the same could not be said for the Miami Heat, who were the #5 seed in the East, with a losing record outside of their home venue, when everybody congregated in the bubble.
But now these teams are together again, and of course, there’s a story line, as LeBron James will go at it against the franchise he won two NBA titles with. It’s his tenth appearance in the final round of play, and he’ll be after his fourth championship ring.
And speaking of championship rings, guess what? Dion Waiters will be getting one, regardless of which team wins, even though he didn’t do very much for either squad.
This, by the way, is the first time in NBA history where two teams that missed the playoffs made it into the Finals the next year.
And this is a limited window for many of the parties. LeBron is 35 years old, so needless to say he doesn’t have a lot of time left. Also, Anthony Davis, brought aboard for this specific purpose (and, if you believe the rumors, in a deal engineered by LeBron and his agent), is a pending free agent, so who knows if he’ll be around for another season.
Coaches Erik Spoelstra and Frank Vogel have locked horn in a couple of stirring playoff battles between the Heat and Indiana Pacers. King James was on Spo’s side then; now it’s the other way around, and everyone knows how unhappy Pat Riley was that LeBron left Miami and went back to Cleveland.
This best-of-seven series gets underway on Wednesday at 9 PM ET.
Series Schedule – Lakers vs. Heat
Game 1 — Wed., Sept. 30, 9 PM ET
Game 2 — Fri., Oct. 2, 9 PM ET
Game 3 — Sun., Oct. 4, 7:30 PM ET
Game 4 — Tues., Oct. 6, 9 PM ET
Game 5 — Fri., Oct. 9, 9 PM ET *
Game 6 — Sun., Oct. 11, 7:30 PM ET *
Game 7 — Tues., Oct. 13, 9 PM ET *
* If Necessary
(All games to be broadcast live on ABC)
Series Odds from BetOnline Sportsbook
Los Angeles Lakers -307
Miami Heat +257
As for Game 1, the Lakers are the favorites:
Los Angeles Lakers -4.5
Miami Heat +4.5
Over 217.5 points -110
Under 217.5 points -110
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers knew the Denver Nuggets played “big,” and so they went along. That meant a lot of Dwight Howard, who averaged 20 minutes a game and actually had a heck of a series, making 15 of 19 from the field, getting to the line 19 times, and pulling down ten offensive rebounds. He spent time alongside Anthony Davis, who tallied 31.2 points a game and made 50 of 55 from the line.
Then of course there was LeBron James, who averaged almost a triple-double and had 38 points, 16 rebounds and ten assists in the clinching Game 5. The Lakers hit 50% of their shots against the Nuggets, who may have been a bit worn down after coming back from 3-1 deficits twice in a row in the playoffs.
LeBron has surrounded himself with some players who have championship-level experience, like Rajon Rondo (37-11 assist-turnover ratio vs. Denver); Denny Green, a classic “3 & D” guy; JaVale McGee, who started a lot of games (but only logged 38 minutes in the West finals) and JR Smith, who hasn’t played much.
These Lakers did a pretty nice job all year defending the three-point line, holding opponents to 34.9%, and they didn’t let things get out of hand against Denver (33.6%) and Houston (37%). In the regular season they were third in the NBA in Defensive Rating, and shot 48.5% as a team in the regular season, best in the league.
It’s not just that the Heat have run through these playoffs as a #5 seed, it’s that they have done so without having to be extended the limit. They have compiled a 12-3 record in this post-season.
A huge key to this success, naturally, was the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, the great two-way player who truly jumped at the opportunity to be in Miami. And he has really enjoyed dispelling the notion that he is a negative influence on the atmosphere, a reputation he acquired from previous stops in Chicago, Philadelphia and Minnesota. But everybody already knew Butler was a star. The guy who’s really emerged is Bam Adebayo, a flexible defender who also led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals in the 4-2 series win over the Boston Celtics. Adebayo’s plus-minus figure of +89 is the best of anyone in the playoffs..
Also, the re-insertion of Goran Dragic into the starting lineup has been huge. Dragic was the focus of a lot of attention by the Boston defense, but nonetheless averaged 20.3 points per game. And you can’t say enough about what undrafted three-point sharpshooter Duncan Robinson has done, hitting five triples in the Game 6 clincher against the Celtics. It should be noted, however, that the Heat shot just 32.3% from downtown in the series, and that is out of character for a club that was second in the NBA in three-point accuracy.
Rookies figure into the equation here. Tyler Herro, a first-round pick out of Kentucky, scored 19.7 ppg in the Boston series and poured in 37 in Game 4 – off the bench. Kendrick Nunn was a member of the All-Rookie team, and he played a big role in the regular season, although he played only 23 minutes in the Boston series. Role players were acquired, including Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala, a one-time NBA Finals MVP who went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in Game 6 vs. the Celtics. In that set, Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones combined for just 71 minutes, and Meyers Leonard, who started 49 regular season games, didn’t play at all.
The Lakers might be able to present matchup problems if they decide to go “big,” particularly if someone has to defend Howard. Adebayo is outstanding, but will be able to handle Davis? We’re not all that sure if Spoelstra is going to turn to Olynyk or Jones if the Lakers go to a big lineup, or for that matter, Leonard, a seven-footer, who can stretch his offensive game out to the perimeter. He seems to have been erased from the rotation.
Miami could indeed go “small” with someone like Crowder at power forward, but ultimately they are going to have to figure out a way to account for Davis and LeBron James at the same time. They’ll likely throw an assortment of people at LeBron, and that will include Butler, who will have to be every bit his All-Defensive self.
Because of Dragic’s size, he is a tough guy for the Lakers to defend in the backcourt. And the championship experience of Iguodala is exactly what the Heat was looking for when they rescued him from Memphis. Herro has been sensational, but we figure at worst, the Lakers are dead even when it comes to the second unit. That’s where Rondo, Markieff Morris and industrious scorer Kyle Kuzma reside.
It’s probably no surprise that the presence of LeBron is the wild card. That’s because he can function like a small forward, power forward or point guard. Miami can throw as many people as they want at him, but he’s going to do what he’s going to do.
The Heat are most effective when they can get to the line (they had the league’s highest ratio of free throws to field goal attempts) and hit threes. For what it’s worth, the Lakers won both meetings between these clubs, by scores of 95-80 and 113-110. In those games, Miami actually exceeded that FTA/FGA ratio, but they shot just 17% and 30% from the arc. While the Heat gave up just 48.9% from two-point range (best in the NBA), the Lakers hit 59% inside the arc. And they had the 98-71 rebounding edge, which indicates they can be dominant on the inside.
So they can dominate in close, defend on the outside, play in deliberate, half-court mode (if for no other reason than LeBron’s isolation skills) and get out and run (second in the league in fast break points).
That means they have a number of ways to win this.
I would not discount the possibility that Miami can shoot lights out for a couple of games in this series, if Robinson and/or Herro get hot. But they won’t keep LeBron in check. This won’t make Pat Riley happy, but it’s…..
LAKERS IN SIX (+275)
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