• By now you’ve seen all of the storylines and the extra stuff about the finals matchup between the Lakers and Heat. I’m here to just talk some X’s and O’s and to give you my thoughts on what I expect to see and some interesting things to watch out for. First, the Lakers are clearly the favorites in this series. They have the two best players and it’s by a large margin. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been playing out of their minds on both ends of the court. There has been a lot of talk about the Lakers defense, which ranks 4th in the playoffs with a 108.1 DRTG and that’s anchored by James and Davis’ ability to protect the rim. Their offense ranks 2nd with a 115.6 ORTG thanks to elevated play by The Brow, who is hitting his mid-range shots at a .569 clip in the playoffs. For comparison, Kevin Durant shot .529 on mid-range shots in last year’s playoffs and his playoff-best was .629. They blow teams out of the water with a net rating of +7.5 which is 1st in the league with the Miami Heat ranking 2nd at +5.1. Ok I threw a bunch of numbers at you, but the main takeaway is that the Lakers have been by far the best team in the bubble and the Heat have been the second best team, but the margin between the two is not insignificant.

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    There are some ways the Heat can deal with the Lakers, but it’s going to take near perfect execution for them to steal this championship away from them. Coach Spoelstra found a lot of success with his zone defense against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and conventional wisdom would say that they should utilize it against a Lakers team that has struggled to find consistent outside shooting. The problem here is that Anthony Davis is a matchup nightmare. If the Heat run a zone, they’re prone to lobs and Anthony Davis might be the biggest lob threat in the NBA. The Heat’s best weapon on defense is Bam Adebayo, who has been their best player during this playoff run, but he can only guard one of Anthony Davis and LeBron James. This is where Jimmy Butler comes into the picture to tag LeBron James. These two are going to be the best defenders the Lakers have seen in the playoffs, so there’s a chance they can slow them down, but it’s going to be a team effort to build walls around the paint to stop the Lakers from getting their easy buckets. Coach Spoelstra has deployed this wall strategy against Giannis Antetokounmpo with great effect, but now he has two superstars to worry about, a limited amount of fouls and a lack of size.

    Coach Vogel has shown a willingness to adapt and utilize every player on his roster (even Talen Horton-Tucker in a brief spurt against the Rockets) so it won’t be surprising to see him fiddle with lineups, but the Heat are the perfect match for them to go big again. The Lakers are at their best when they leverage their effective size and bruise their opponents. They get a lot of foul calls, but they earn those calls by constantly attacking the rim and abusing mismatches. By going big and utilizing Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and Alex Caruso as backcutting options, it should open up things for them on offense as long as LeBron James continues to play the way he has been. In their regular season matchups, LeBron James didn’t see much of Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis saw more Meyers Leonard guarding him than Bam Adebayo, so we can scrap that data. Game 1 is going to be a giant “feel out” game and we’re going to see two adept coaches adjust accordingly with counters in what I expect to be a fascinating chess match. The Heat are the best conditioned team in basketball and they showed it during the Celtics series. Miami was a +22 overall in the fourth quarter in the Conference Finals, which ended up being the difference in the series. The counter to this though, is that the Lakers are not the Celtics. They build up leads early and they have championship experience on their side. Having LeBron James steady the ship also helps when you’re trying to survive a team’s counter punch and respond. He was magnificent in Game 5’s win over the Nuggets in the closing moments and although he tends to run out of gas towards the end of games, he’s always putting his team in a good position to win throughout the first three quarters.

    The Heat are going to have to claw their way to stay in this series and I think they’ve shown enough mettle to earn my respect, so I’ll go with the Lakers in six games, but they’ll all be battles. All it takes a bad game from Anthony Davis or LeBron James for the Heat to steal a game as you can’t rely on the Lakers’ role players compared to the Heat. It’s too hard to envision a scenario where LeBron James doesn’t nab his fourth ring over a team the Lakers should beat. For betting purposes, I’m grabbing the Heat +4 and up at all places. The line opened at +5.5 on MyBookie and has been shrinking ever since people started to catch on. I expect the line to move towards +2.5 as the series draws to a close.

     

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