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Basketball

NBA Finals Preview

L.A. Lakers vs Miami Heat

Here we are, on the eve of game 1 of the NBA Finals. Who would of thought we’d be here? In a bubble in Orlando, Florida, the month of October and we are beginning the NBA finals between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. Imagine if I pitched that idea to you 12 months ago. What a weird year! This should be an incredible match up. I honestly don’t know who will win, but I will be shamelessly cheering for my guy, Jimmy G Buckets and the Heat. That being said, I wouldn’t be upset if the Lakers got one for Kobe. Let’s have a look at some of the talking points.

I don’t think any one can argue that the two best players in this series belong to the Lakers – Danny Green and JR Smith. I make myself laugh. Obviously, I’m talking about Alex and Caruso. Seriously though, it’s obviously L.A. with James and Davis. It’s hard to say who their third best player is, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say it’s pretty significant drop off in talent. I don’t mean that to offend anyone, it’s just a fact. Even on his best night, Caruso is no James. Who is?

Top 2 players aside though, I feel the advantage starts to go to Miami. On any given night, you don’t even know who their best player is going to be. Butler, Dragic, Herro, Robinson, Adebayo, Iggy…take your pick. It could be any one of them. It could be a combination of a few. It could be all of them. Sure, you could see Caruso or Kuzma or any of the Lakers having a game, but with Miami, it feels guaranteed. Miami have the depth and I think that gives them a big advantage in this series.

Let’s talk about one of the best players though, LeBron James. He had a pretty huge game against Denver to close the series. James has nothing left to prove, but he still plays like it. I know that James wants this ring. You cannot question his work ethic or passion. He is dedicated and committed. He works hard and knows what it takes to win a championship. I expect James will get a near triple double most nights.

You know who else knows all of this about LBJ? The whole world! However, the answer I’m looking for is Miami Heat coach, Erik Spoelstra. In 2012 and 13, Miami won two championships with LeBron James as a player and Spoelstra as the coach. If any one can figure out a game plan to slow down James, Spoelstra would be the coach to do it. He knows what makes James tick. He knows his habits and tendencies. I’m not saying he will be able to stop James, but he has a better chance than most.

Whilst we are on the topic of the best players, we may as well look at the key match up, at least in my opinion. Anthony Davis vs Bam Adebayo. The battle of the bigs. The battle of the All-Stars. Call it what you will, it’s going to be great. Davis has had a pretty good bubble so far, but he hasn’t come across someone like Bam. Bam has had a pretty good bubble so far, but he hasn’t come across someone like AD. So, who get’s the advantage?

I don’t know. I do know, that Bam will have to play AD 1 on 1. If anyone can do it, it’s Bam. He is the perfect combination of size, speed and strength. He is comfortable defending in the paint, mid range and at the arc. He has the ability to make every shot hard for AD. Davis can be a pretty incredible scorer though, especially in the post. Bam has to be careful not to pick up cheap fouls and play himself onto the bench. Adebayo is key for Miami in this series.

On the other hand, Davis is also an excellent defender. He will make life very tough for Bam and Bam is not as good on offense as Davis is. You have to imagine that Davis has the advantage here, but I think Adebayo plays with more heart and hustle. It will be an interesting match up to watch.

Speaking of key players, I just want to give Jimmy a shout out before we move on to some team trends. This is me being a fan, not an analyst. You made it, man! Well done. All you have ever wanted was to be the man and you’ve done it. I really am proud of you. It was 8 or 9 years ago, I wrote one of my first articles on the NBA and it was about you. I could see it in you, way back then. The article was titled “Jimmy Butler – the future of the NBA”. I really wish the Bulls were smart enough to see what I saw. I’ll be cheering for you and I’ll be wearing my Butler jersey. You’ve come a long way. Remember where you came from and what got you here. Don’t lose that motivation, stay hungry!

Alright, back to basketball. Let’s talk about the 4th quarter trends. It feels like Miami have been down in the fourth quarter in a lot of games, but they always seem to win. How does that happen? Conditioning. The Heat say they are built for this, it’s time to go and prove it. I do believe the Heat have the better conditioning and when it’s clutch time, they know how to play. Players like Herro and Butler never seem to lose their cool, especially when the game is on the line. I’m not saying the Lakers don’t have the clutch gene, but confidence goes a long way and the Heat certainly have a lot of that.

Two other facts on the topic of “clutch” – take both of these with a grain of salt though. The Heat have blown more double digit leads than any other team this season. The Lakers have also seen huge leads of their own evaporate in the fourth quarters. A lot of that would of been in garbage time though and the season started a very long time ago (almost 12 months!) Like I said, take it with a grain of salt.

How are the Lakers going to play? They play their best basketball with Davis at the 5. They are smaller and faster that way and can really push the ball in transition. If you’ve seen any Lakers game this season, you know how lethal they look on the fast break. On the other hand, they can elect to go big. No one really can play bully ball and show off size like the Lakers can. Howard, McGee and Davis are all giants. James is a beast of a man. Pick your poison, Heat. Whatever lineup Vogel decides to go with, it’s trouble. I imagine we will see both lineups at times, so let’s look at what the Heat will have to do to compete.

Small ball wise, the key will be to slow them down. Transition defense will be pivotal. You cannot let them get out and run. If Miami are as well conditioned as they say, they need to prove it against this line up. If Miami can slow them down and force them into half court sets, they’ve done a good job. They will need to play a mixture of zone and man defense, but the key is stopping the run. I think the zone defense will work will for the Heat. It saw a lot of success against the Celtics. The Lakers can be a very poor 3 point shooting team, the zone will help exploit this. They will need to switch to man if the shot starts dropping though. The Lakers can turn it on in a hurry.

If the Lakers go big, Miami will need to be aware of the rebounds and second chance points. The Lakers are one of the top offensive rebounding teams and the Heat are one of the top defensive rebounding teams. It’s hard to bet against Howard at the moment, but that will be an interesting stat to watch throughout the series.

On the topic of interesting statistics to watch, I’m curious to see a) how many 3 pointers each team attempts and b) at what percentage they connect. Miami are obviously the better 3 point shooting team, but they’ve not been without their cold patches. They can’t afford to do that here.

The Lakers have been pretty woeful shooting the basketball from outside. I truly believe they just need to abandon it. Unless it starts to fall early in the game, they should limit their attempts to 10-15 a game. Just get inside and dominate in the paint. The Lakers don’t want to get into a 3 point shootout with the Heat, because they will not win that.

I think the only thing left to talk about is who wins the Finals MVP. Obviously, it depends on who wins the series. If it’s Miami, I suspect Bam will be the clear MVP. It could also be Jimmy though if he can get up to triple double numbers or Tyler Herro if he is scoring 30+ a night.

For the Lakers, the smart money would be on LeBron James. He has been the finals MVP in every series he has won. For some reason though, I don’t think it will be him this year. The next obvious choice will be Davis, but I think Bam will stop him from winning it. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but if the Lakers win, the finals MVP will be Rondo. It’s this nagging feeling I’ve had for a couple days now. I just think it has been a weird year and someone unexpected will finals MVP.

Let me explain why I think it’s Rondo. Playoff Rondo is real. You cannot deny that. He has easily been one of the best two passers on the Lakers, up there with James. The on court chemistry Rondo has with Davis is undeniable. I’ve lost count of how many alley oops they have connected on. Rondo can also score when you need him to and has been a consistent 45% shooter throughout his career. I haven’t got the stats to back this up, but it feels like he has improved his 3 point shooting. If Rondo can consistently make the three, Miami are in trouble. Rondo can also grab some decent rebounds, although that might be harder against Miami. You never know though, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of the little guy. If Miami are fighting hard to keep the bigs off the glass, Rondo might steal a few. Remember that amazing offensive rebound he had at the end of the last game against Denver? Rondo out rebounded 3 or 4 Nuggets. Size isn’t everything.

Finally, Rondo is an incredible perimeter defender. I have no doubt he will cause lots of turnovers and help get the Lakers moving in transition. More easy assists with AD on the lobs. Is it crazy to think Rondo could average a triple double? Yes, it definitely is. But it’s not so crazy to think he could post around 12 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists and a few steals. Rondo just might be the Finals MVP. If not, we have it in writing and in 2 weeks we can all laugh at me for this wild prediction. Still, if you have a spare $5, bet on Rondo for finals MVP. He is paying 151 to 1.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Miami and what they can do to win. I don’t mean to discredit the lakers, not at all. For them to win, it’s pretty simple. They just have to come out and be the best version of themselves, with LBJ leading the way. It’s really that simple. For Miami to win, there is just a lot more work they have to do, which is why I have spent so much time talking about them. They can’t just come out and be good. They need to be exceptional.

It feels like this will be a very hard fought series. I can’t see it being less than 6 games, hopefully it goes 7. I think this will be one of the better series we’ve seen in a few years. Probably since the Cavs beat the Warriors in game 7, all the way back in the 15/16 season. I still get goosebumps when I think of that block from LeBron. I’ll never forget it. My head says Lakers in 6. My heart says Miami in 7. Either way, it’s hard to be upset with either of these teams being champions. I’m going to try and just enjoy the series.

By the way, this is the 5th time the Andre Iguodala and LeBron James will meet in the NBA Finals. Isn’t that bizarre?

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