The Western Conference-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and the East-5-seeded Miami Heat both advanced to the NBA Finals, losing three times each in three rounds This marks LeBron James’ 10th appearance in the final and the first with the Lakers, who last played for the championship with Kobe Bryant in 2010 This is the Heat’s first appearance in the final since 2014, when James led them to the last of four consecutive title shots
The Lakers cleared enough room to lure LeBron James into 2018 in free agency and traded the cache of draft assets they collected on six consecutive trips to the lottery for Anthony Davis. ‘they got here because in the end all they really needed was James and Davis, two of the league’s top five players.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka worked the sidelines to sign a veteran assist around his two superstars, including Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, who have six appearances in the final between them They complete their rotation with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris and JaVale McGee, hardly the supporting cast you would expect in a dominant playoff run.
But the Lakers need little help beyond some extra protection from Howard’s rim, Rondo’s play, and some passable 3-D help around the perimeter of their mishmash of fenders, as James and Davis average a combined 555 points (from 651 percent from live shot), 196 rebounds, 125 assists and 48 combined blocks and playoff steals These are the two best players in this series by far, and the Lakers outdo their opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions with both on the ground
The smallball Houston Rockets were the best of three defenses the Lakers faced in the Western Conference playoffs, and they had no answer for either of the MOONs Monstrous Stars The Lakers had previously blitzed a Portland Trail Blazers team that ran on fumes in the first round and lost Damian Lillard to injury, and a Denver Nuggets return to the LUNE Clippers knocked out the best-equipped team to challenge James and Davis on paper As for the playoffs, it was as smooth as it gets for the Lakers
The Heat had a tougher road after sweeping the under-equipped Indiana Pacers in the first round, but they made it just as easy Armed with a versatile defense and an arsenal of offensive weapons, Miami twice stomped on reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks in the second round An equally well-rounded Boston Celtics team posed a bigger threat in the conference finals, but the Heat beat and surpassed another favorite to win four close games in six tries.
The Heat have two stars of their own, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, who are defensively outfitted to counter the MOON stars, but Miami’s offense is more diverse Butler, their regular season top scorer, does them have led to score in any of their six games against Boston It was Adebayo, former All-Star veteran Goran Dragic and rookie Tyler Herro, who erupted for 37 points in a decisive win in Game 4
Sharpshooter Duncan Robinson and streakier Jae Crowder are also capable of shedding a handful of 3 points each night, and we haven’t mentioned Andre Iguodala, the former 36-finals MVP yet. years who have proven their profession value with 15 points on five shots in a closing game 6 against Boston
It all came together in Orlando, where the Heat revealed an identity in the vein of team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra – a well-conditioned collection of underdogs fighting for every possession Add it all up and the Heat beat their opponents by 4 points5 points per 100 playoff possessions, despite two of three teams that finished the regular season in the top 10 in offense and defense
The Lakers won both regular season meetings between the teams – a scorching 95-80 in early November and a 113-110 squeaker in mid-December – but neither was representative of this version of the Heat Miami was still starting. Kendrick Nunn and Meyers Leonard, neither of whom made the rotation in the conference finals The Heat had yet to acquire Crowder and Iguodala, and neither Herro nor Robinson were the player each would become in Orlando – a threat from burst for a series of buckets swinging the game
We know it: James and Davis dominated their battle against Butler and Adebayo Most of their respective time was spent defending themselves, with the exception of the minutes that Lakers coach Frank Vogel stole with McGee and Howard on Adebayo Their statistic totals in nearly equal minutes over the two one-on-one meetings:
If this trend were to continue, it would almost certainly mean a quick end to the Heat’s season, barring a play-off from their upper depth. How comfortable Dragic, Herro and Robinson can be for Carrying Miami’s offensive burden in the face of Lakers players may hold the answer to the length of this series
Spoelstra sorted out the starting lineups after the trade deadline, entering the break and bubble, where he prioritized Dragic’s reliability over Nunn’s inexperience, moved Adebayo to the center and ditched Leonard for more help from Crowder on the wing, where Butler and Robinson were mainstays
This lineup started every playoff game, edging opponents by just 14 points per 100 possessions in 193 minutes, much less effective than the closing squad replacing Robinson with Herro Neither side played a kick. tongue out against the Lakers this season Spoelstra is unlikely to deviate from what brought Miami to this point, at least to start the series, even though Vogel plays a second center alongside Davis
Spoelstra stuck with that lineup against a big Bucks frontline, despite her struggles, if only because the depth of rotation he worked in behind her was so successful in wiping out deficits The Heat began to lose faith in Crowder at the end of the conference final, but a return to Leonard’s departure would be a series recognition that McGee, Howard and the Lakers dictated the terms of engagement
Lakers started three different lineups in the playoffs McGee won starting center minutes in his first eight outings, before Vogel inserted Morris to complete the final two games against the Smallball Rockets They returned to McGee’s length and athleticism for their first three games against the Nuggets, only to trade Howard’s bruises to explain the massive mass Nikola Jokic threw.
James, Davis, Green and Caldwell-Pope started all 15 playoff games for the Lakers
The Lakers gave McGee a big hit in their two regular-season games against the Heat, but the two came against Leonard Vogel has already ruled McGee out of his starting playoff lineup twice. The most logical misunderstanding in Adebayo at center is Davis, which would most likely mean Morris would revert to his version of a smallball starting lineup alongside James, Green and Caldwell-Pope
There is perhaps no better player designed to stop Davis than Adebayo and no better player designed to stop Adebayo than Davis So which player do you consider to be the most unstoppable? It has to be Davis, a four-time All-NBA first-team selection who can score at all three levels, as Adebayo does the vast majority of his offensive damage in the paint. Adebayo passed every try in his first few minutes of serious playoffs, but those mostly came against Myles Turner, Brook Lopez or Daniel Theis It’s the final, and it’s Anthony Davis
According to Second Spectrum, Adebayo spent around 35 possessions to defend Davis in 9:37 in their two regular season meetings Davis scored 15 points on 14 shots and added three assists against zero turnover, as the Lakers scored 123 points per possession In the nearly 23 possessions in 5:26 that Davis spent on Adebayo, the center Heat was 0-for-3 on the field, scoring four runs on eight fouls and committing two turnovers on his only pass Miami has scored 08 points per possession during this time These are untenable numbers for the Heat Adebayo needs to get better, and he could be just nine months later
An interesting statistic was circulating after the Heat knocked out the Celtics on Sunday: James and Butler split 34 games in their careers, 17 games apiece Closer examination reveals 11 of them came in the playoffs, where James is 8-3 against Butler, winning a pair of second-round playoffs against the Chicago Bulls Again, a Heat star is a good match for their Lakers counterpart, but may not be good enough
Butler’s best asset on offense is his ability to reach the edge and draw fouls, which he now has to do against James, an elite rim protector for his position who is known for his ability to avoid collecting faults He’s averaged just 18 personal fouls in those playoffs, the lowest of his career, mostly because he rarely kept the opposing team’s best player in the first three rounds. How often he draws Butler in the final will largely depend on how often Butler attacks and how close games are to the critical time James has defended Butler for 28 possessions in 7:27 in both of their meetings this season; Butler scored two points
Conversely, Butler is a fierce defender who gives up two inches and 20 pounds to James, who can also score at all three levels and command a game without scoring. It’s a nightmarish clash for anyone, even Butler, a four-time All-Defensive selection The Heat will send Crowder, Iguodala and even Adebayo to James, but Butler is their best chance to contain him In 41 possessions on 10:13 vs. Butler in the regular season, James had 16 points and nine assists, with his Lakers scoring 169 points per possession
The Heat were the second-most accurate 3-point shooting team in the NBA this season, at 379 percent on 354 attempts per game – a hair behind the Utah Jazz It’s not thanks to Butler and Adebayo , who combined for less than a triple per game Robinson, Herro, Dragic and Crowder do a lot of the damage, and they combined to make 107 lines per game at a 37% playoff clip
Robinson and Herro are especially deadly They must be considered at all times, and chasing them down in Miami’s heavy movement attack can be exhausting It was a daunting task for a Celtics team full of capable wing defenders and will be even more so for the wings of Lakers Caldwell-Pope, Green and Caruso.
Conversely, the Lakers have placed in the bottom 10 in 3-point shooting this season, converting 349 percent of their 316 attempts They shot about the same in the playoffs The difference in volume and 3-point efficiency resulted in 78 points per 100 possessions for the Heat in the regular season, a net gain that narrowed to a margin of 57 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs
The Lakers survived that 3-point gap due to sheer dominance from James and Davis, but if Butler and Adebayo can mitigate the damage MOON stars can do it, the rest of the Heat can play with their precision Miami has an 8-0 record shooting better than 37% deep as a team and 8-1 making 13 or more threes in a game The Lakers have enjoyed similar success at these benchmarks, but they reach them less often The Heat’s success will depend heavily on their more reliable explosiveness from a distance, but Butler and Adebayo need to make sure the advantage counts
How James and Davis can be the top two players in this series will decide how long the race is, as Miami can claim the next five or six strongest players on any given night. This puts pressure on the Lakers’ third-best player, whoever he is, to enter the fray Easier to rely on a game plus each of Green, Caldwell-Pope, Rondo and Kuzma, rather than a nightly collective effort of Heat, or the theory goes in favor of the Lakers Such is the influence of the reliability of James and Davis
Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports Got a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben @ yahoocom or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach
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Lakers vs Heat
World News – United States – NBA Finals Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs Miami Heat
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