The NBA Finals is here. The bubble was one of the most innovative things we have ever seen in sports. We saw several players ascend to stardom. We saw teams implode under pressure. We saw unheralded players make a name for themselves with breakout scoring performances.
Most importantly, we saw zero positive coronavirus tests in the bubble. Well done, NBA.
As the NBA Finals begin, let us look at 11 things to watch in the slugfest between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron vs. Everybody
There are so many matchups in this series to pay attention to when talking about LeBron James. First, you have LeBron vs. Pat Riley, then you have LeBron vs. Erik Spoelstra, and then you have LeBron vs. Jimmy Butler, Andre Igoudala, and Jae Crowder. LeBron has downplayed the individual matchups, but deep down, you know he is relishing this opportunity to defeat his former team. LeBron and Riley clashed several times during his time with the Heat and he has extensive playoff history against Butler, Iggy, and Crowder. Many believe the Heat has the upper hand because they are familiar with his tendencies, but he’s very familiar with them as well. Like most series this postseason, James has eased his way into dominance. It will be interesting to see if he’s aggressive from the start. If so, the Heat will be headed 95 South back home to Miami and LeBron will have his fourth ring.
Can Anthony Davis Claim His Glory?
Anthony Davis is one of the most polarizing figures in the NBA. For some, he can never do enough. If he scores 30-plus points, people will point out that he did not have enough rebounds. If he is hot from the outside, many will say he did not impose his will in the paint. This is the series where Davis can silence all detractors and claim his glory. If Davis is on top of his game, he will likely win his first championship and possibly Finals MVP.
The End of Herro Ball
Tyler Herro has made a name for himself during the 2020 NBA Playoffs. His confidence, shot-making ability, and unflappable personality when the stakes get high are why he is on the cusp of stardom. While all those things ring true, the NBA Finals is a large stage and for a rookie, the lights may be too bright. The former Kentucky Wildcat averaged nearly 20 ppg during the Eastern Conference Finals and he would need to surpass that for the Heat to have a shot in winning their fourth Larry O’Brien trophy. In recent interviews, Herro is playing the underdog role and talking a bit more than usual, which is bad timing. Although it is not directed towards them, any inkling of bulletin board material is unnecessary at this point. The Lakers have fared well against better guards this postseason, and Herro does not scare the Lakers. It will be interesting to see which Tyler Herro shows up, I am sure he will have a few moments, but it will not be anything like we saw in the earlier rounds.
Jimmy Butler’s Scoring
Jimmy Butler is the ultimate teammate and he does everything on the floor to make his teammates better. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, he failed to shoot the ball over 15 times in any game. That necessarily is not a bad thing, but against the Lakers, the Heat will need him to be more aggressive offensively. When looking at the history of Butler playing against LeBron in the postseason, his offensive numbers fall due to him exerting so much energy when guarding him. In the 2015 Playoffs when Butler’s Bulls faced off against James’ Cavs, Butler only scored over 20 points one time and he only shot 50 percent from the field once in six games. That cannot be the case in this series, but will Butler have enough in the tank to be elite on both ends?
Finals Danny Green
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Danny Green this postseason, but he has a chance for redemption. This postseason he has shot poorly from beyond the arc, but this series could be his coming out party. In his defense, he spent the first three rounds guarding stars such as Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Jamal Murray, so it was not a surprise that his offensive output took a huge hit. In this series, Green will not have to guard anyone of that caliber, and he will be expected to shoot the lights out of Miami’s zone defense that they unveiled throughout the playoffs. Green has played a lot of playoff games and he usually has a game where he goes unconscious from three. That has yet to happen, but he will have every opportunity to go back in time and showcase one of his vintage NBA Finals performances.
Rajon Rondo turned back the clock this postseason and he is playing like he found the Nike Blazers that Calvin Cambridge found in the movie Like Mike. As seen in earlier rounds, Rondo will have a huge role as the primary ball-handler and perimeter defender. Having Rondo on the court negates Miami’s zone, because of his ability to penetrate and find the open holes in the defense. Although he is not a knockdown shooter, he is shooting nearly 50 percent in the postseason on his limited three-point attempts. Miami does not have an answer for him and as long he is hitting shots and making the right plays, the Lakers should have no problems with defeating the Heat.
The Heat can light it up from three. They made 14.1 threes per game and shot 38 percent from deep in the first two rounds of the playoffs. If Miami has hopes of upsetting the Lakers, their shooters must come up big. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro are the Heat’s best shooters, but Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Jones, Jr, Andre Igoudala, and Jae Crowder can occasionally get hot. The Lakers have had their share of woes when defending the three-pointer, so they will have to rotate and closeout well or Miami will make them pay.
Kelly Olynyk as the Enforcer
Kelly Olynyk has been a non-factor for most of the playoffs, but he will play the enforcer role for the Heat. I am not saying he is going to play like a member of NWO, but he has been dubbed as a dirty player by some, so it will be interesting to see how he is used to agitate the Lakers players.
Kyle Kuzma Playing off the Ball
Kyle Kuzma was expected to be the Lakers’ third star, but that has not transpired. Kuzma has had his moments where he shined in that role, but other times, he has been a headache more than anything. Nonetheless, Kuzma has been solid, but not spectacular. With Miami playing zone mixed with man-to-man concepts, movement is going to be key. In the Houston and Denver series, Kuzma was actively moving without the ball, getting easy dunks and layups. When Kuzma tries to create for himself, it plays into the hands of the defense, but he has been at his best off the ball. Having someone with Kuz’s skillset and willingness to put pressure on the defense by moving without the ball will be key to negate Miami’s defense.
The Miami Heat does not have a true point guard outside of Goran Dragic, therefore they initiate their offense through Bam Adebayo. Bam is an elite facilitator at his position and he is also a threat to score as well. The Heat plays their best when they are knocking down shots from deep. With that, it gives Bam the spacing to do damage as a scorer and as a passer. The Lakers played well against Denver’s Nikola Jokic that has a similar skill set, but they had moments when they struggled. If Bam plays as he did against the Boston Celtics, the Lakers will have their hands full.
Erik Spoelstra vs. Frank Vogel
Both head coaches have similar upbringings in the profession, and this will be their fourth playoff series against each other (Spoelstra’s 3-0). This time around, Vogel has LeBron James on his side, but that does not mean that it will be a walk in the park. Both Vogel and Spoelstra are innovative coaches on the defensive side of the ball. Spoelstra’s offenses are more productive, but Vogel has James and Anthony Davis. Spoelstra is the better coach, but Vogel is not a slouch.
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp