After 10 grueling seasons of mediocrity, the Los Angeles Lakers have finally returned to the NBA Finals.
During perhaps the most tumultuous season in league history, the Lakers somehow found a way to conquer the Western Conference. Now, they will look to match up with a team that has fought for every ounce of respect they have been given in the Miami Heat. Coming into the 2020 NBA playoffs as the fifth seed, the Heat were not supposed to be here.
After the Heat swept the Indiana Pacers, most thought that Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks would make quick work of them.
Well, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo had other plans.
Game after game, the Heat continued to dominate the Bucks and if someone was to watch the series without knowing about each team’s regular season record, they would think that Miami was the No. 1 seeded team. After sending the reigning MVP home in just five games, the Heat honed in on the Boston Celtics. A team with Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart was supposed to run Miami out of the gym, but they lost in six games.
Each and every round, the Heat put anyone that was sleeping on them on high alert and proved they will be amongst the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Unfortunately, the Lakers will yet again have to end another Cinderella story in just five games.
Both teams come into the matchup with a 12-3 record and each poses a different set of threats.
When talking about this upcoming series, it has been stated that while the Lakers have the two best players, they Heat most likely have the next 3-10. Ironically, this was said in just about every other matchup the Lakers faced this playoffs, most recently the Denver Nuggets.
Yes, while the Lakers have yet to face off against a team like the Heat this playoffs, the latter have also yet to go against a team like the former.
When looking at who they have faced in the Pacers, Bucks, and Celtics, the main commonality between those three teams lies in the fact they do not have a big man capable of slowing down Adebayo and the Heat’s offense. Myles Turner certainly was not a challenge and neither was Brook Lopez or Daniel Theis.
Now, coming into this series against the Lakers, Adebayo will not only have to face off against a Dwight Howard who just gave one of the league’s premier bigs in Nikola Jokic problems, but the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Anthony Davis as well.
Per NBA.com, in the 22.6 possessions that Davis guarded Adebayo this season, he put up just four points, one assist, and two turnovers while going 0-of-3 from the field. This means that coming into this series, Adebayo has failed to make a single field goal on Davis this season and scored all four of his points from the free-throw line.
In their two regular season matchups, the Lakers won by a total of 18 points and managed to hold Miami to just 80 points in one of those games, their lowest scoring mark of the entire season. During those games, the Lakers superstar duo of James and Davis combined to average 56.0 points, 15.5 rebounds, 13.0 assists, and 3.0 blocks with both players shooting above 51.0 percent from the field.
On the contrary, the Lakers limited Adebayo to just 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds on 50.0 percent shooting while Butler put up 22.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists on 44.4 percent shooting.
While the Lakers might have less depth than the Heat, it is also worth noting their star power significantly outweighs Miami’s. The Lakers do not need players like Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to average 15+ points per game because they receive upwards of 60 points nightly between just James and Davis.
Although the Lakers got the best of Miami during the regular season, it is well worth noting that this Heat team looks much better than it ever has before and has added significant pieces since the last time these two teams matched up in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. These two wings combined with Butler will give Miami three viable defenders to throw at James, each giving him different looks and a different set of problems.
Not only will they be able to throw different defenders at James, but they will likely also implement the 2-3 zone that has worked so incredibly well for them all throughout the playoffs. They like to keep their taller players out on the perimeter while their guards protect the corners and funnel everything into Adebayo down the middle.
In order for the Lakers to break this, Davis will need to position himself within the mid-range and force Adebayo to either commit to his jumpshot, leaving a lob opportunity open for Howard, JaVale McGee, or Kuzma, or stay in the paint and let Davis take the open free-throw line jumper. If they can manage to make the right decision more times than not, the Lakers will force the Heat out of their zone defense and make them commit to man coverage.
When this happens, James can hunt for mismatches on defensive liabilities within Miami’s lineup such as Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, or Kelly Olynyk. If they choose to send doubles at him, James is skilled enough to find the open man and make them pay for it.
One last key for the Lakers will be winning the minutes that James is off the court. This has been a problem for them throughout the season and Miami’s depth will allow them to capitalize on that weakness more than most other teams have been able to. This is where Rajon Rondo, otherwise known as Playoff Rondo, will need to step up.
If Rondo can facilitate the offense just well enough to hold a lead or keep things close while James gets his rest, the Lakers should be in a good position to pull away with this series in just five games.