What a year it has been. Surely a one of a kind NBA season, but it's back, and so is the NFL. As our lives slowly get back together, we now have all sports to watch, but the main focus for most people, especially basketball fans, should be the NBA Finals. It's seemed as if the Playoffs dragged on forever and that we would never make it to the Finals, but it's finally here, and I couldn't be more excited for this matchup.
Well, every year we have the two or three teams that we think are going to be in the Finals together. This year it was the Bucks, Clippers, Raptors, and Lakers. Nobody even thought to include the Heat in that. People thought the Heat were more of a first, maybe second series playoff team, but nobody expected Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and frankly this whole team, to step up.
Well, the Heat have revolutionized the three point shooting defending team. They have perfect players like Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler who can lock down on defense, but can also score with ease on the offensive end, and if you're Jae Crowder, the three ball is a very important part of your game. The Lakers pride themselves on paint scoring and being able to out hustle their opponents, and this works very well for them. They made quick work of the Nuggets, who came back from being down 3-1 in two series in a row, and now they are looking to capitalize on their confidence and win this series for Kobe. The Lakers certainly have motivation and are very energetic, but so are the Heat. The media is often talking about how Lakers' JaVale McGee and others are extremely energetic on the bench and how they "provide energy" for the Lakers, but we can't forget about the Heat sideline with guys like Meyers Leonard and Kelly Olynyk who are getting up on every play. So as far as that goes, I think both teams are fairly equal.
Let's not forget that the Heat beat tougher opponents than the Lakers. Let's not forget that the Heat sweeped the number four seeded Pacers, took down the number one seeded Bucks 4-1, and beat the number three seeded Celtics 4-2. Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the Lakers were easily able to take down the 8th seeded Blazers 4-1, then they were faced with the 4th seeded Rockets, who they also easily took down 4-1, and then the 3rd seeded Nuggets, who they finished off 4-1 as well. So, as you can see by the simple rankings, the Heat had to go through tougher teams, so I think the Heat are more prepared for a better team then the Lakers are. Don't get me wrong, the Lakers are going to adjust quickly, and it won't be a problem, I'm just saying that the Heat have a slight advantage in that department, and that Miami's road to the Finals were much tougher than the Lakers'.
Now let's get into the actual aspects of the game. I'm going to be the generic writer and wait to get into the most important parts, like how to guard Anthony Davis and LeBron, for later. As of now, I'm going to touch on the huge impact the point guards have for these two teams.
LeBron James is obviously the facilitator of this Laker offense, but with Rondo now back at point guard, he will be just as much of a facilitator as LeBron. We've seen what Rondo can do, even at 34. When Rondo made it back for game 2, Lakers' shooters shot 11/15 from the field for 28 points. All off of Rajon Rondo assists. We all know Rondo doesn't need to score or shoot, and the Lakers coaching staff doesn't necessarily want him too, but it doesn't hurt that he can. I wouldn't say I'm a Rondo fan but I've thought his shooting has been underrated ever since his days in Boston. He can shoot from the mid-range with excellence, but he can actually shoot the three well too! In the playoffs this year, he's shooting 44.8% from three on 2.9 attempts per game.
You have the people that are going to say Duncan Robinson is the unsung hero, or Tyler Herro, but no, Goran Dragic is the unsung hero of this Miami Heat team. In the playoffs, Dragic is averaging 20.9 points while putting up solid field goal percentages as well, especially for a guard. Dragic and Butler are the facilitators of this team, and that has been working out extremely well these whole playoffs. Dragic can always slip a pass off to a teammate, but what makes him so dynamic is his ability to finish with such ease and also be able to shoot the three. I'm telling you, Dragic is one of the most underrated finishers in the league. His ability to use either hand to finish as well only makes it harder on defenders to try and block him. So, like I said, don't forget about Goran Dragic as he will also be a big part of this Miami Heat offense, everywhere you look.
I'm not going to talk about everyone on each team's roster, but I think it's fair to talk about Tyler Herro. If there is any rookie going to the Finals and starting, it should be him. He has the confidence of a veteran, and is even becoming a ball handler for Miami. On multiple accounts when Goran Dragic was not in the game and Jimmy Butler was not recieving the inbound pass, it was Herro who was bringing the ball up the court. Herro has obviously been shooting the ball well from distance, and that will continue to happen. Although it is ultimately up to Erik Spoelstra, I think he'll want Herro shooting the ball, because when he does, something good normally comes out of it, and the Heat are normally coming away with points. Herro's interior game was not the greatest entering the season, or even during it, as his FG% was only 42.8 through the regular season. He's getting better though, as he has now upped his FG% to 46.3% and is getting better with driving, and driving and kicking to a man in the corner like Duncan Robinson (a play which works fantastic and should be used more often).
Okay, you've waited for it, now it's time to get into the most important aspects of the series. I'll start off with what lineup the Lakers should go with. Personally, I'm a big fan of Dwight Howard and what he does for this team. I think he's still very good and has plenty of gas still left in the tank. So ultimately, this year I liked when the Lakers had Howard starting at center rather than JaVale McGee. A new lineup the Lakers created was having Markieff Morris start at PF, and have Anthony Davis play the C position. The Lakers record a plus 55 in 194 minutes with having either LeBron, Davis, and Howard, or LeBron, Davis, and McGee. When they have Morris at PF and Davis at C, they record a plus 38 in just 68 minutes. In case anyone is wondering, that's pretty insane, and they should definitely go with that lineup if Davis is on board to play center. AD says he'll do anything to help his team, well, here you go, play center, that's how you can help your team. You might think that Howard should start at center because of his ability to send away shots. Well, this wouldn't exactly be smart because Howard fouls a little more than he should, and in case you forgot, the Heat are currently number one in free throw shooting. With Davis, you have length and wingspan, so he can block shots without having to get to close to the defender.
A problem that the Heat have is interior defense, and the Lakers will certainly take advantage of that. The Heat let opponents shoot 66% in the restricted area and 64% in the playoffs. Meanwhile, 40% of the Lakers shots came in the restricted area this season, and they converted a league high 69% of those shots, so this definitely has to be the main focus for this Miami defense. It is likely that LeBron and Dwight will be running a lot of pick and rolls tonight, so having Adebayo guard Davis might not be the best idea. Instead, have him guard Howard, so that he will be able to switch onto LeBron and hopefully not let him get to the basket, which, by the way, he's converted 76% of his shots in the restricted area in the playoffs. You might think that Jae Crowder on Anthony Davis is a bad thing, but I don't see it that way. We've seen big men try to stop AD in the mid-range and in the post, and they just can't. So why not get a strong and pesky defender with quick hands to try and steal the ball and make it hard for AD to get into a shooting motion without getting the ball swatted. Like I said, height hasn't mattered against AD in the past, he just shoots over pretty much every big man that comes his way, so why not try something different and at least see if it works? Another thing this helps with is avoiding fouls called on Adebayo. If he's guarding AD, there's going to be a lot of fouls. It doesn't matter that you're an amazing defender, AD is going to draw fouls on you.
Now, as I've said before, the Heat have had great offense, but they've also had fantastic defense as well. So far, the Celtics are the only team that have seemed to have figured out the Heat's zone defense. The Lakers have obviously been watching film of the Celtics and I'm sure they'll be prepared. I could see both LeBron and AD giving Miami major problems if they are flashing in and out of the middle, because that is the weak spot of their defense. Both LeBron and AD can pull up and knock down a mid-range shot with ease. With players like Howard and McGee, this gives LeBron or Rondo two lob threats to pass to if the zone is broken. In regards to the Miami defense, I could see Derrick Jones Jr. getting some playing time in this series. He is an extremely athletic and versatile defender, and he can guard from the 1 to the 4. Andre Iguodala could also get some playing time as well, as he has had experience guarding LeBron in the past.
Well, that leads us to the end of this article. There are just some NBA Finals that people never forget, and boy let me tell you, we won't be forgetting this series anytime soon...
Restricted area FG%s courtesy of Cleaning the Glass.