What a journey it has been so far. Several questions surrounded the bubble and persisted throughout, but the basketball and storylines have been incredible. The Los Angeles Lakers ran the Western Conference and did the same in the playoffs. It’s no surprise that a LeBron James lead team once again makes the Finals. The Eastern Conference, however, was somewhat of a shock as the fifth-seeded Miami Heat didn’t just win the conference, but manhandled it.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat Finals Preview
Los Angeles Lakers Road to the Finals
The Lakers played below their standards in the eight play-in games. James and Anthony Davis struggled, Danny Green was in a shooting funk, and Rajon Rondo battled injury. Doubt and criticism surrounded the team. The red-hot Portland Trail Blazers became a popular pick for a historic upset.
A short five games later, one thing was clear – don’t doubt James. The Lakers actually lost the first game of the series but took over once they got their heads straight. Davis took over game two with a 30 point double-double, and James went on to post close to two 30 point triple-doubles before finally getting it in game five.
The Houston Rockets were up next. Just like the series prior, the Lakers lost the first game as James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 60 points. The Lakers, however, went on to win the next four by an average of 13 points. Game two was once again headlined by an Anthony Davis 30 point double-double, while James poured in near triple-doubles in every game.
After taking down Damian Lillard, Harden, and Westbrook, criticism on the Lakers quelled. They became the clear favorites as their conference finals opponent, the Denver Nuggets, took down the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Nuggets, although underdogs, were definitely no easy task. Jamal Murray transformed into a superstar, and Nikola Jokic cemented his place as the league’s top center.
The Lakers won the first two games, and game two was capped off by a stunning Davis buzzer-beater. Denver won game three, however, and was ready to attempt yet another comeback. James and Davis combined for 60 points in game five, and then James posted a 38-16-10 line in game five to end the series.
Miami Heat Path to the Championship
The Heat matched up with the Indiana Pacers in the first round. Although the Pacers were the higher seed, they were without All-Star Domantas Sabonis. Their hope rested on TJ Warren‘s explosiveness.
That wasn’t a factor. Miami played incredible defense to hold the Pacers’ scoring average of just over 100 points per game. Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic stole the show, leading to a clean Miami sweep.
Miami moved on to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. The Bucks were not only a favorite to win this series, but a favorite to win the championship. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the main reason, of course, as he is now the holder of back-to-back MVP awards.
The Heat’s game plan of a balanced attack and swarming defense on Antetokounmpo proved to be unstoppable. Antetokounmpo never found his groove, and although he did get injured, the Heat’s defense played a major factor in slowing him down. Bam Adebayo and company were on a warpath. Butler and Dragic continued to shine, and players such as Jae Crowder, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro were reliable bucket-getters. Miami won in five and shocked the basketball world.
Beating the Bucks is never an easy task, but it didn’t stop there for Miami. The Boston Celtics presented a unique match-up in the conference finals. Jayson Tatum is the focal point of their offense, but players like Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Marcus Smart are more than capable of picking up the slack.
Boston was a tougher overall match-up for Miami, but the Heat still won in six. The Celtics made things interesting with a win in game five to make the series three to two for Miami, but Butler, Adebayo, and Herro combining for 73 points was too much to handle during game six.
James and Davis are clearly the Lakers’ two key players. Both are first-team All-NBA players and have dominated the playoffs thus far. They’re both going to have to average at least 25 points per game, however, to overcome the Heat’s defense. Davis will also have to dominate the boards versus Adebayo, a more physical opponent than Jokic.
Rondo and Dwight Howard will also be key. Both are former All-Stars and have picked up their play during the playoffs. Kyle Kuzma and Green will be x-factors. Kuzma has the talent to put up 20 on any given night, but sometimes seem to lack the motivation to do so. There is no greater motivation than a shot to win the championship. Green, on the other hand, has two jobs – make open threes and player perimeter defense. Hitting open shots is obviously key, but his perimeter defense on hot shooters like Robinson and Herro will be a game-changer.
Butler and Adebayo, like James and Davis, are the two key Heat players who have also turned it up in the playoffs. Butler, although a fantastic leader, has had a couple of let-down offensive games. Although the Heat offense is balanced, Butler is going to have to average somewhere between the 18-22 points per game range. Adebayo just has to keep doing what he’s been doing – tough defense, dominating the glass, and being a point center. He represents such an intriguing skillset on both sides of the ball and will be key in slowing down Davis.
Dragic, Robinson, and Herro are going to be important complementary pieces. All three can score at will and get hot at a moment’s notice. It won’t come easy, however, as Rondo, Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso are all solid defenders.
Lastly, Crowder and Andre Iguodala will have similar roles to Green of the Lakers. They will have to hit their open shots and play tough defense versus both James and Kuzma. Crowder might even see time on Davis.
Prediction – Los Angeles Lakers in Six
James and Davis are unstoppable. The duo has proved that time and time again these playoffs and certainly won’t stop during the Finals.
Miami actually offers the best defensive match-up the Lakers have seen in the playoffs thus far. They’re also capable of running a great offense that isn’t hinged upon one or two players. With that being said, it’s impossible to doubt James. The Heat aren’t the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors. It will be a hard-fought series, but James will bring back the Larry O’Brien trophy to Los Angeles.
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