Staff Picks: NBA Finals

photo: Getty Images

By: The Intrepid Staff

The 2020 NBA Finals begin Wednesday night, as the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Miami Heat.

With the Lakers heavily favored in the series, we polled our staff to find out who they think will be crowned the next NBA champion.

Sean Casey, staff writer: Lakers in 7

Series MVP: LeBron James

Keys for Lakers: Must shoot well from 3-point range to open things up for Lebron and Anthony Davis, need to play fast and get points in transition, figure out Miami’s 2-3 zone early in the series, and Anthony Davis needs to outplay Bam Adebeyo 

Keys for Heat: Use their depth to their advantage and get solid contributions from their bench and role players, slow the Lakers down in transition, Bam needs to be best player in this series for them to win, and finally, find the player to take on the assignment of attempting to lock up Lebron. 

Nic Gelyon, staff writer: Heat in 6

The Miami Heat have, on a really good night, five decent mid-range shooters in Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic. If you add Duncan Robinson and Kelly Olynyk, the Heat have four very good three-point shooters as well. And yeah, their defense is pretty good too.

The Lakers have been missing their best defenders throughout their time in the bubble, and its showed. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the only ones on their team who can get a rebound, or an assist, or a block, or just points in general. The Heat will outscore the Lakers, and it’ll seem a lot closer than it actually is.

Jonny Walker, staff writer: Lakers in 5

Series MVP: LeBron James

The Heat are a nice story, but the Lakers are simply on another level. The NBA is a star-driven league. Anytime you have the two best players (LeBron James and Anthony Davis) in the series playing for the same team, it’s hard to imagine them not dominating.

Plus, I’m not convinced that Jimmy Butler is good enough to be the best player on a championship team. The lack of a true superstar on this squad feels reminiscent of those early 2000s Pistons teams, just significantly less talented.

Ryan Surmay, staff writer: Lakers in 5

While Miami is one of the hottest teams in the league right now, LeBron and Anthony Davis will put the heat out and win in five games. Miami can steal a game and catch the Lakers off guard with their 3-point shooting, but they have no answer to the Lakers’ dynamic duo.

Peter Byrne, staff writer: Lakers in 6

The Heat have been fantastic throughout the entire playoffs. They’re carried an underdog mentality into every series, and have come away with win after win, as well as a gained sense of confidence. This will be their toughest test yet, and while Milwaukee had the best record in the NBA this season, the Lakers have more star power and playoff experience.

If all goes right, Miami can win this series. However, I think the star power LA possesses, as well as its experience, will prove too much to handle for this young Miami team.

Jeff Uveino, Editor in Chief: Lakers in 6

Series MVP: Anthony Davis

How does the saying go? We all love a good underdog?

The Heat’s improbable run to the Finals has won the hearts of many fans, but the Lakers just have too much star power. Expect each game to be close.

Anthony Goss, staff writer: Lakers in 6

Mike Hogan, special contributor: Heat in 6

NBA Finals preview: No. 1 Lakers take on No. 5 Heat

photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

By Ryan Surmay and Peter Byrne

The 2020 NBA Finals begin Wednesday evening, with the Western Conference’s Los Angeles Lakers taking on the Eastern Conference’s Miami Heat.

Here are some notes on each team, things to watch for, and predictions for series.

Los Angeles Lakers 

How they got here: 

After finishing 52-19 in the shortened regular season, the Lakers had a 3.5 game lead over their cross-town rival the Los Angeles Clippers to secure the West’s top seed.

LeBron James turned in one of his most impressive seasons yet, this being his 17th year. He rebounded off of an injury plagued 2018-2019 season, eliminating any talk that he was washed up. 

James averaged 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and a league leading 10.2 assists. The team was lead in scoring by first year Laker, Anthony Davis, averaging 26.3 points per game. He came over after a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.

One of the key factors for this team’s success was the team chemistry as they stayed together through the tragic loss of Laker legend Kobe Bryant in January. They beat the Trail Blazers, Rockets and Nuggets, all four games to one, to advance through the playoffs. 

X- Factor Player: Rajon Rondo 

“Playoff” Rondo has been in full effect this postseason, averaging 9.1 points and 7.2 assists per game. Rondo has led the Lakers’ second unit all season.

Rondo’s championship experience will be the difference maker to help aid the Lakers’ championship aspirations. He fills the void they have as they are missing a third true star player. 

While he missed the first playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers, he came back and was a critical part of their series victories over the Rockets and Nuggets. 

Rondo is not going to play the minutes he used to with the Celtics, now that he is 34 years old, but he will provide leadership and veteran experience off the bench when LeBron James needs a breather.  

Player to watch: Anthony Davis 

While everyone knows LeBron James is accustom to the spotlight due to his nine finals appearances in the last 10 years, this is Davis’ first time playing in the finals.

His matchup against Miami’s Bam Adebayo will be one that all basketball fans are looking forward to as he is a young upcoming star. Davis already proved he can dominate as provided to be no match for the arguably best center in the league Nikola Jokic.

Everyone can expect this to continue, as Davis has a favorable matchup.  

Keys to the series 

Defense 

The Lakers had the third best defense this regular season but now will be faced with a scorching hot Heat team stacked with shooters. Wings Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will have their hands full with rookie Tyler Herro and former two-way player Duncan Robinson, along with balanced scorers Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic.  

Three-point Shooting 

Shooting has been the one aspect the Lakers have lacked this season. They were in the bottom third of the league with an average of 35%. It’s going to be interesting to see how they matchup up with the heat because most of their scoring has been from inside the arc, the opposite of the Heat.  

Experience  

The Lakers have significant more championship experience on their roster with the likes of LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, JR Smith, Quinn Cook, and JaVale McGee all having championship compared to a young Heat team with only having Udonis Haslem and Andre Iguodala making it before. The story of the Heats playoff run so far has been all of the youth on their side but they cannot match up with all of the Lakers experience. They understand the necessary preparation in order to get the four crucial wins.

  

Miami Heat  

How they got here: After finishing 44-29 in the regular season, the Heat emerged as the No. 5 seed in the East. They swept the Indiana Pacers in the first found before beating the Milwaukee Bucks four games to one, then knocking off the Boston Celtics, 4-2.

X-Factor Player:  

Tyler Herro. The 20-year-old has done a phenomenal job so far in the playoffs, as he is averaging 13.5 points and 4 rebounds per game.

One key stat for Herro is that the Heat are 6-1 in games where he scores 15 or points in the playoffs. If they can get the rookie involved in his first finals appearance, it may lead to a few wins against a Laker team that struggles to contain scoring guards. 

Player to watch: 

The player to watch must be Jimmy Butler. So far these playoffs he’s averaged 20.7 points, 5.7 boards, and 4.5 assists per game.

However, it’s not all about stats with Butler. People rave about his ability to lead and get his teammates involved. However, I think Butler is going to have to take more control of this series if the Heat want a chance to win it all.

When Butler has scored 20 or more points in these playoffs, Miami is 7-0. The Heat might need 20 from him every night this series. 

Keys to the series

Three-point shooting

In the regular season, the Heat shot 37.9% from beyond the arc, which was second in the league. If they want any chance in this series, they’re going to need threes to fall. 

Containing Anthony Davis

The Heat have an elite defender in Bam Adebayo, who was voted second-team all-defense this past season. However, Davis destroyed the Heat in two matchups this season, dropping 26 points, 8 boards, and 7 assists in the first game and 33 points and 10 rebounds in the ladder. They won’t be able to completely stop AD, but if the Heat can contain them, they have a shot. 

The Zone Defense

One way the Heat stifled Boston and Milwaukee in the last couple series was their zone defense. The Lakers aren’t necessarily known as a shooting team, typically they depend on LeBron and Anthony Davis to put their head down and get to the basket. Now, if the Heat can take the ball out of their hands and force guys like Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma to consistently make threes, I think they will be happy.  

Head to head matchup:  

In the regular season, LA took both games. On November 8th they won easily, taking down Miami 95-80. On December 13th it was much more competitive, as the Lakers edged out a 113-110 victory. In both games, Bam Adebayo failed to score over 12 points, something that will not lead to success if that were to happen in the finals. Miami will need guys other than Butler to produce 15-20 points a night. 

Game 1 of the NBA Finals is scheduled to tip off at 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

 

Before you hit the panic button…

By: Isaiah Blakely 

The sports world tends to hit the “panic button” early on in the season, no matter the sport.

This year the Golden State Warriors were questioned early on when they were in third place almost 25 games into the season.

Super Bowl Champion New England was behind the Miami in the division going into Week 5 and there were questions being asked about they would fare this season.

Well the Warriors just clinched the one-seed in the NBA’s Western Conference again and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.

The new team to be questioned is the defending champion Boston Red Sox who are 5-9 are and near the bottom of the AL East. With a slow start comes immediate questions of what’s wrong with the team.

What if there’s nothing really wrong with the Red Sox, or the Patriots or the Warriors? Great teams figure it out. Sure the Red Sox have holes especially in their bullpen, but can we hold off on asking questions about what’s wrong with a team this early in the season?

On this date last year the Red Sox were having a hot start at 8-1. But there were some other teams that were playing great baseball in April as well. The Toronto Blue Jays (6-4), Los Angeles Angels (7-3), New York Mets (7-1), Pittsburgh Pirates (7-2) and Arizona Diamondbacks (7-2).

None of those teams made the playoffs and they all started with a .600 winning percentage or better. In the Pirates and Diamondbacks cases they were top of the division halfway through May and still missed the playoffs.

Today we live in a world of instant results because of technology. But when it comes to sports, people including myself, need to relax and let the process play out.

That’s what playing a professional sport is…. A long process starting in the offseason with a goal to win a championship.

People just ignore the process and are quick to tear down a player and or a team.

The Patriots are a prime example. Tom Brady has been “declining” according to several talking heads on networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports 1 for years. That declining quarterback has led the Patriots to the Super Bowl four of the last five years including winning three.

People are also too quick to crown teams.

This year’s Los Angeles Lakers for a lot of people including myself were an easy playoff team. Halfway through December they were a game out of third place. Then poor play and injuries derailed their season. In reality though, a team made up of guys not known for their defense or their ability to shoot the three very well should have never been considered a high seed. But we all bought into the LeBron James hype and were all very wrong as the Lakers didn’t even eclipse 40 wins this year.

Even in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres were top of league and on a 10-game win streak in late November. It appeared this was going to be the year the Sabres finally return to the playoffs. Instead the only thing that returned was dysfunction and poor play. That led the Sabres to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 76 points.

Early season performances aren’t completely pointless but it’s not always an indicator of a team’s future success. At this point it’s getting ridiculous. Media people are just making knee-jerk reactions to get the most views or clicks on an article.

If a surprise team is over-performing, you have to take a look at how its winning and decide whether you believe that’s a realistic and sustainable way to be successful.

It’s rare that a talented group, especially a defending champion, has such a big problem the next year that can’t be fixed over the course of a season. That’s what makes a team great, its ability to adjust and overcome adversity.

I’m not saying no more “hot takes”. I enjoy the “Monday Morning Quarterback” type takes just like everyone else. But before we hit the panic button on the Red Sox in April or question if the Patriots dynasty is over hold off another week and save the panicking for everyone else.