NBA Finals Preview: Miami vs. LA Lakers
Familiar faces will meet again in this year’s NBA Finals as championship series staple LeBron James leads his Los Angeles Lakers into battle against the Jimmy Butler-led Miami Heat.
A four-year run in Miami, brought James his first taste of championship champagne.
James was a part of a team that went to four straight NBA Finals winning the two in the middle.
With many storylines coming out of his tenure in Miami such as his tift with head coach Erik Spoelstra or how Pat Riley wouldn’t give in to the King’s demands.
From allegedly asking Riley to come coach the team to bumping Spoelstra on the way to the bench during a timeout, James’ time in Miami became easily one of the most infamous yet watched stint with an organization.
Upon his exit, Riley admitted to being “pissed” citing he was watching “a dynasty walk out the door.”
Fast forward to now, James has since left Miami, brought a championship to his home state of Ohio with the Cavaliers and now has embarked on a new journey with the Lakers that has him in his 10th NBA Finals.
During the regular season, LA went 52-19 which was the best mark in the West and second in the NBA behind only the Milwaukee Bucks.
Many supporters felt James should have been awarded the league’s Most Valuable Player award after posting 25.3 points per game, 10.2 assists per game and 7.8 rebounds per game.
The 10.2 apg mark led the league and was a career-high for James in his 17th season.
His partner-in-crime Anthony Davis, who was acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the start of the season, has been the perfect running mate for ‘The King.’
Davis led the team in scoring in his first year in LA with 26.1 ppg. He also added 9.3 rpg to go along with 2.3 blocks per game and 1.5 steals per game.
Coming over from New Orleans, Davis made it clear that he would hold James accountable on the defensive end while James holds Davis accountable for learning how to win.
James also averaged 1.2 spg this season.
Head coach Frank Vogel came into the season seemingly sitting in the proverbial “hot seat” after Laker General Manager Rob Pelinka brought in former head coaches Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins as assistants.
Many spectators believed Vogel was placed in position to be a scapegoat if things were to go wrong with Kidd or Hollins expected to take over if a firing was to take place.
On the other hand, that scenario may have played out right across the hall.
Vogel is coaching in his first NBA Finals after going 0-2 in the conference finals with the Indiana Pacers previously.
Moreover, Vogel lost to Miami three of his four playoff years in Indiana, two of which came in the conference finals.
Through the first two rounds, the Lakers lost game one of both series. The Lakers only lost game three against Denver in the conference finals bringing the team’s total losses to three needing four more wins to secure another championship.
It would be the 17th title for LA, which would tie Boston as the most all-time, and it’s first since 2010 when the team was led by the late, great Kobe Bryant.
As for the Miami franchise, it’s looking for its fourth title as an organization after winning its first three in the last 15 years.
It’s last title came back in 2014 led by the Heatles of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
This Heat team is a much different installment than that rendition but the core principles are still intact.
The always fiery Butler seemed to fit that mold perfectly.
Butler averaged 22.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.5 apg and 1.8 spg this season in his first year in South Beach.
Going through ups-and-downs throughout the year, Miami finished with a 44-29 record, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference.
It was a complete team effort as seven different players averaged 11.9 ppg or better.
Despite the strong team play during the regular season, the Heat struggled in the restart going 3-5 in the bubble in Orlando.
Miami was greeted with a breakout year from center Bam Adebayo.
The six-foot, ten center averaged 15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.3 bpg and 1.1 spg on the way to being named runner-up for the Most Improved Player award.
The versatility of Adebayo was on full display during All Star Weekend when he won the annual skills challenge.
The aforementioned Spoelstra has a similar story to Vogel, seeing as both of the head coaches got their start in the film room.
Spoelstra admitted to having “imposter syndrome” during the early going of the Big 3 era in Miami.
From film room to championship head coach, Spoelstra has compiled an overall record of 567-392 (.591) and is heading to his fifth NBA Finals as a head coach.
Each round the test has gotten a little tougher for Miami as they swept Indiana in the first round before handing Milwaukee a gentleman’s sweep in the second round.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat eliminated the Boston Celtics in six games.
Heading into this final series, both teams have specific traits that brought them all the way here to the Finals.
Los Angeles relies on its size looking to dominate the points in the paint battle and control the rebound margin.
This season, the Lakers ranked ninth in rebounding but finished first in field goal percentage (48%) and first in blocks per game (6.6)
Miami has been one of the more prolific three-point shooting teams that has relied on their defense as their backbone.
The Heat ranked just below Utah (38 percent) in three-point percentage during the regular season (37.9 percent).
This stat is bolstered by the play of forward Duncan Robinson whose 45 percent three-point mark ranked fourth in the league.
While oftentimes it comes down to which team has the best player, this late into the playoffs x-factors can determine whether a series is won or lost.
Los Angeles has players like Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard.
While he hates the nickname of “Playoff Rondo,” the former Celtic-guard has to agree that there is some validity to it.
During the regular season, Rondo averaged 7.1 ppg and 5 apg, while upping his averaging in the playoffs to 9.1 ppg and 7 apg.
Howard is in his second stint with the Lakers with a more intent focus on defense and rebounding this time around.
His consistent energy and effort was rewarded with him being moved to the starting lineup ahead of game four of the Western Conference Finals.
For Miami, there’s a multitude of names that can be brought into the discussion here.
Names like former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who will be playing in his sixth straight NBA Finals, who has a knack for coming up big when his team needs it most such as game six against the Celtics when he scored a season-high 15 points.
However, guards Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro may prove to be the x-factors for this deciding series.
After not being the starting point guard during the regular season, Dragic has emerged as the team’s leading scorer during the playoffs.
The rookie Herro is looking to continue his first-year acceleration after he dropped a blistering 37 points in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Game one of the NBA Finals is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 30 with a 6 p.m. start time.