We have come to the end of the road. The Miami Heat, for the first time without either Dwayne Wade or LeBron James, will have a chance to win an NBA championship. They will have to defeat James for that goal to become a reality. Both teams have had uphill battles to get to the Finals.
The Heat have had to mesh together in one season with the new additions of Jimmy Butler and turning rookies Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn into assets on a nightly basis.
For the Lakers, everyone knew they were going to be the team to beat with Anthony Davis teaming up with James. While LA did have a random group surrounding the two superstars, they have delivered enough to lead the Lakers to their first Finals appearance since 2010.
So how do they fare against each other and which matchups should we keep an eye on?
The biggest one-on-one matchup in this series is Davis against Bam Adebayo. Adebayo will need to use his massive frame to keep from letting the skinnier Davis drive to the basket and score with ease. Adebayo will need to pull gritty tactics from the old school days of basketball and make Davis think twice before driving. While Davis has been the most reliable 3-point shooter for the Lakers, it will be smart for the Heat to make him take those shots versus an easy layup.
Goran Dragic versus Rajon Rondo will also be a key matchup in the series. Both men are two productive veterans who have provided great leadership throughout this postseason. Defensively, Rondo has filled in the massive gap left by two-way guard Avery Bradley, who stayed away from the NBA bubble. He will need to play his best defense going up against Dragic, who has averaged 20.9 points per game this postseason and been a smokescreen to get Herro and Robinson easy looks from beyond the arc.
Speaking of Herro and Robinson, who stops these two on the Lakers? Will it be in the hands of Rondo, Davis and James to shut these two down, or can Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma finally be assets on this team? If Herro and Robinson get hot, can these two respond or will their morale get so low that it allows Miami to go on runs that aren’t possible to come back from? Laker fans may hate it, but these two may be the most important keys to securing the title.
Then, there is the battle of the leaders between Butler and James. Butler has seen a total 180-degree flip in his narrative of being a “locker room cancer“. He’s been one of the great team leaders in the NBA this season and is ready to take on the NBA’s greatest superstar.
For James, now is his chance to live up to being the “King” and take the throne of LA. He can join the pantheon of greatness in Laker history with the likes of Magic Johnson, Jerry West and the late Kobe Bryant. Will the pressure get to him like 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks, or will he overcome all the jokes about his Finals record and win his fourth?
This will be a close, gritty series. Depth is going to matter and the most important players will not be the superstars. If the Lakers’ wings can’t stop Herro and the rest of Miami’s shooting depth, Erik Spoelstra will cruise to his third ring. I simply don’t believe in Kuz or Green.
Prediction: Heat in six