Section: Sports

After eventful postseason, Lakers and Heat face off in Finals

After eventful postseason, Lakers and Heat face off in Finals

The 2020 NBA Finals are currently underway between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat. 

This year’s Finals are unlike any other. For the first time, the series is being played at a neutral site in Orlando, Fla., amid a global pandemic. The Finals are also unique  for Lakers star forward LeBron James, who will be facing off against his old team and former coach Erik Spoelstra. James left the Heat in 2014 after four Finals appearances and two championships for the franchise. 

This season also marks 10 appearances for James in the NBA Finals, more appearances than all but three franchises in NBA history (Lakers, Celtics, Warriors). This is James’ first Finals with the Lakers after joining the team in 2018. If the Lakers go on to win the title, Los Angeles will tie the Boston Celtics for most championships of all time with 17. 

The two superstars of the Lakers, James and teammate Anthony Davis, are considered the two best players in this series. The duo finished third and fourth in the MVP race this year, respectively. Davis also came in second for the Defensive Player of the Year award (DPOY). In the playoffs, they are averaging a combined 55.5 points on 65% true shooting, 19.6 rebounds, 12.5 assists and 4.8 combined blocks and steals in the playoffs, according to Yahoo Sports

Due to the excellent play of James and Davis, the Lakers got through the Western Conference playoffs relatively easily; no team was able to set up an effective defense against the two superstars. The Lakers easily defeated a depleted Portland Trail Blazers team in five games in the first round. 

Even the Houston Rockets, who ranked third in defensive rating in the playoffs, could not handle the combination of James and Davis in the Western Conference Semifinals, falling to the Lakers four games to one. 

The Lakers then faced off against a resilient Denver Nuggets squad, which had made NBA history, coming back from two 3-1 deficits in the earlier rounds. Despite the Lakers winning in five games, the Nuggets, led by Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, certainly made a statement as a team to look out for in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future. In Game 2, the Nuggets led late in the fourth quarter. However, in the final seconds, with the score tied, Anthony Davis hit a demoralizing buzzer-beating 3 to give the Lakers a 2-0 series lead. 

Their Finals opponents, the Heat, also have two superstars of their own: five-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and first-time All-Star Bam Adebayo. All eyes are set on the rivalry between James and Davis and Butler and Adebayo. There are two key elements to this matchup: Butler must match James’ leadership, while Adebayo needs to outplay Davis in the paint. 

The Heat had a more arduous path to the Finals than their counterpart. After sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round, the Heat played the Milwaukee Bucks, facing the two-time reigning MVP and DPOY Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks had the best overall record in the regular season and a historically stout defense. Jimmy Butler’s stellar play, along with lights-out shooting from Heat key players, carried the Heat to a shocking victory: They won the series in just five games. 

In the Conference Finals, the Heat had a hard-fought battle with a deep Boston Celtics team and won in six games. Adebayo was central to the Heat’s efforts, taking advantage of the lack of size in the Celtics’ front court.  

Thus far, the Lakers and Heat have played four games in the Finals. The Lakers started off strong, winning in a blowout 116-98. Davis led the Lakers with 34 points. To make matters worse for the Heat, Adebayo and their starting guard Goran Dragić were injured during the first game and missed the following two games. After the Heat lost in Game 2, Jimmy Butler took it upon himself to swing the momentum of the series, even with two important players watching from the sidelines. Butler boasted a historic Finals performance, recording a 40-point, 10-rebound and 13-assist triple-double on the way to a 115-104 Game 3 victory for Miami. Before the game had ended, LeBron James was seen on television leaving the court in frustration. 

In Game 4 on Tuesday, with the Lakers up 2-1, both teams provided the most intense competition of the whole series. In the end, the Lakers were able to get key contributions from their role players down the stretch, winning 102-96. The Lakers will take a 3-1 lead into Game 5 of the Finals on Friday, Oct. 9 at 9 p.m.

It will be a difficult path for the Heat to come back in the series, with only one team ever overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the Finals (the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016). The team hopes guard Goran Dragić will return from injury, which would provide a big scoring and facilitating boost. Nonetheless, the Heat will have a daunting task of slowing down LeBron James, who has a .792 winning pct all-time in closeout games, the best record of any player in NBA postseason history.

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