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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.