Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
Oct. 1, 2020
There was a time when watching Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals would not come as a shock.
That time is long gone.
For the first time ever, two teams who did not even make the playoffs the previous year will be meeting for the title.
The Lakers are among the league’s most storied franchises, but they have not qualified for the playoffs since 2013.
Despite all the buzz surrounding their crosstown rivals, the Clippers, it is LeBron James & Co. representing the West.
The Heat are a far more unlikely opponent. They defeated the Bucks and Celtics, two popular picks for the Finals, to get here.
Miami found itself in the postseason as recently as two years ago, but they haven’t been relevant in the championship picture since James’ 2014 departure from the roster, when he left the Heat in free agency to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now, the Heat and Lakers square off to cap an already unforgettable postseason.
Every Finals provides intrigue and suspense, but this one feels different. The storylines alone will get your heart rate up.
James is facing the franchise he won two titles with, and this will be his ninth Finals appearance of the last decade. If you want to win it all, you still need to get past LeBron.
Erik Spoelstra, his former coach, has worked absolute magic under the supervision of the legendary Pat Riley. Many figured he would flounder without James, but he finds himself back on the big stage for the fifth time.
Anthony Davis, who just 18 months ago appeared to be trapped in basketball purgatory with the Pelicans, could very well be the Finals MVP.
After bouncing around from Chicago to Minneapolis to Philadelphia, Jimmy Butler is thriving at his new home in South Florida. Perhaps the warm climate and sandy beaches have something to do with his revival.
Tyler Herro is still not of legal drinking age, yet his rising stardom has propelled the Heat to the cusp of greatness.
I could keep going. There is a rare mix of drama and feel-good stories in this edition of the NBA championship.
With that being said, there is not much doubt as to who the favorite is. With James and Davis dominating, the Lakers have yet to go past five games in a series.
The Heat have put forth an admirable team performance, but most expect the talent of Los Angeles to win out. LeBron is averaging a near triple-double, while Davis leads the team with nearly 30 points per game.
There really isn’t much question as to what the formula is. Depend on James and Davis to continue their output and hope for the occasional good game from a role player. That plan has worked well thus far, so there’s no reason to change course now.
Then again, Miami has been an underdog in every series, at least on paper. Nevertheless, they keep finding ways to win.
Their success is largely thanks to incredible team play. There is no definitive star on this team.
To put it in perspective, the Heat have six players averaging at least 10 points per game. The Lakers have three.
Butler is the soul of this team, but Goran Dragic is averaging the most points. Rising star Bam Adebayo is the rebound and assist leader.
Spoelstra’s team may not have the best players on the court, but their depth allows for some flexibility. The Lakers need their stars to perform, but Miami can adapt if someone has a bad night.
Miami must capitalize if and when one of the Laker stars struggle. By his standards, LeBron did not play well for most of the Conference Finals. Davis has been phenomenal, but this is new territory for him.
For the Heat to stay competitive, they will need to be opportunistic in these situations. As we saw against Denver, even at age 35, LeBron can turn it on at any moment. On the rare occasion that he falters, Miami must be ready to pounce.
I wouldn’t count on that happening though, at least not in four different games. LeBron is yet to falter when it truly matters, and you cannot neglect him unless he is sidelined with an injury.
As fun as these playoffs have been, I do not expect much in the way of drama on the court. The storylines are interesting, and the matchup is historic, but Los Angeles should handle Miami deftly.
Hebda — LAL def. MIA, 4-1
Sports Editor Adam Lindner — LAL def. MIA, 4-2
Finals MVP Predictions:
Hebda — LeBron James
Lindner — LeBron James