A look at the key elements of Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers, with the best-of-seven NBA Finals opening Wednesday at 9 p.m. at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.
Edge goes to:
Center: The Lakers moved back to opening with a bigger lineup in the Western Conference finals, so, if it stays that way, this matchup, on paper, would be the Lakers’ Dwight Howard against the Heat’s Bam Adebayo. So just as in the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, Adebayo would have to dominate, possibly as a swing vote in the series. Granted, it probably won’t be to the degree that Nikola Jokic needed to for the Denver Nuggets in the previous round. The reality, is expect most of Adebayo’s defensive focus to be on Anthony Davis. Edge: Heat.
Power forward: While an argument could be made that the Heat at least have a variety of defensive options against LeBron James (let’s call them “slowers” and not “stoppers”), the same can’t be said about the defensive matchup against Anthony Davis. If the Heat go with Adebayo in the matchup, then expect Davis to take him away from the paint. And if Jae Crowder remains the Heat’s de facto power forward, then Davis likely will set up shop in the post. This could lead to a re-introduction of Kelly Olynyk or Derrick Jones Jr. into the Heat power rotation. Edge: Lakers.
Small forward: Did you see James at closing time Saturday night against the Nuggets? Nobody is stopping that. Nobody. And now there is three-day break to recharge. Yes, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra knows LeBron well. And, yes, the Heat have had LeBron’s number during regular-season games in recent years. But this is not the regular season. And this is the team whose president, Pat Riley, publicly challenged LeBron to man up and remain with the Heat in the wake of losing the 2014 NBA Finals. Jimmy Butler has had plenty of moments this postseason, but this is the ultimate challenge, one he has handled surprisingly well in the past. Edge: Lakers.
Shooting guard: The Heat have to compete at the ancillary positions and likely have to win them. This would be one, where a Duncan Robinson 3-for-all might be the best avenue to a level of success in this series. But don’t underestimate Danny Green, who certainly has had his playoff moments against the Heat while with the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat need Robinson to be near the top of his game, as he was Sunday against the Celtics. The expectations are not as significant with Green, who has more than enough ability to match Robinson 3-pointer for 3-pointer. Expect Green to also take defensive turns on Butler, with James then able to be rested defensively against Robinson or Crowder. Edge: Even.
Point guard: Goran Dragic has been nothing short of revelation this postseason, and will have to be again for the Heat to maximize their chances against the Lakers. While James is the Lakers’ de facto point guard, rest assured that Dragic will not be dealing with that defensive assignment. For the Lakers, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is somewhat of a place holder here. He might not be as complete as Avery Bradley, who opted out of the bubble restart, but he is capable of solid contributions. The Heat need far more than mere solid contributions from Dragic. As with Green, Caldwell-Pope could also take defensive turns against Butler. Edge: Heat.
Bench: With Spoelstra shortening his rotation against the Celtics, the Heat bench at the end of the Boston series basically stood as Tyler Herro and Andre Iguodala or bust. This could, however, be a series that produces a rival for Kendrick Nunn. And if the Lakers do open with a bigger lineup, Olynyk or Derrick Jones Jr. might re-emerge, as well. The Laker have championship experience of Rajon Rondo off the bench and quality depth that also features Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris. Unless Dion Waiters achieves the ultimate revenge, this facet of the series might stand as a push. Edge: Even.
Coach: Have you seen what Spoelstra has done to Frank Vogel previously, during those Heat-Pacers series at the start of last decade? Over. And over. And over. Of course, that also was when Spoelstra had LeBron on his side. Spoelstra has dialed up game plans that have produced series wins as the underdog in three consecutive matchups. He seemingly stands at the top of his game at the moment. Edge: Heat.
Intangibles: Talk about the bubble, extra time off, the lack of travel, or any other nuance all you want. But is there anyone or any team that can stop a motivated James? The Heat have plenty of defensive options, with Butler, Adebayo, Iguodala and Jones. But they don’t have a LeBron stopper. No one has. Edge: Lakers.
Prediction: The Heat arguably have defined team play during this postseason run at Disney, on both ends of the court. But by now, it has become clear that Victor Oladipo (or TJ Warren), Giannis Antetokounmpo and any of the Celtics’ leading men are not LeBron James. And with all due respect to Spoelstra’s team, it’s not as if the Heat are entering with what those Golden State Warriors did in those series against LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Lakers in six.
NBA Finals: Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers
(Best of seven)
Game 1: Wednesday, 9 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, 9 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 6, 9 p.m.
Game 5*: Friday, Oct. 9, 9 p.m.
Game 6*: Sunday, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7*: Tuesday, Oct. 13, 9 p.m.
* — If necessary.
(All games on ABC.)
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