It's funny how everything comes down to predictions before the season actually starts. The truth gets away from everyone because of bias view points and wanting to make their team seem superior to the other.
Of course if it was the other way around, they would then point the flaws about the other team endlessly as well. It comes down to who you cheer for.
What bugs a lot of people I believe is losing sight of the main points and entering into the reality that is the game of basketball. It is not about names and predictions. The team that executes will win, every single time.
So, the following is a breakdown between what many expect to be the next NBA finals match up. This is not to ignore the other contenders. Boston and Orlando have legitimate shots in the east (Bulls may be a threat), while I like Houston, San Antonio, Portland, and even Oklahoma City in the west to battle it out with LA.
Still, I too see these two teams meeting in the finals when the dust has settled from both conferences. Who has the advantages and which team can win it all if it's a 7 game series?
LA Lakers: Derek Fisher and Steve Blake
Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo
From a depth chart perspective, the Lakers take care of Miami in this spot pretty easily. Sure Derek Fisher has a lost a step, but the man comes through when he is needed most. He is still a solid defender and has a knack for hitting 3 pointers when needed most. Steve Blake was a smart pick up because he is younger and can run an offense well. He can also hit the 3 point shot but is somewhat inconsistent at it too.
Mario Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo are decent at best. Chalmers has the ability to be a very good defender. He had a great rookie year but suffered through a sophomore slump. He plays the passing lanes extremely well though, racking up steals constantly and can hit big shots. Never the less Chalmers is an inconsistent shooter, so he must be prepared to hit shots for Miami for him to be successful. Arroyo is decent because he hits the mid range shot and does not turn the ball over, but he is a liability on defense and does nothing else that impresses.
Here is the kicker, Miami still has Wade, LeBron, and Miller to handle PG duties. Wade and LeBron are particularly exceptional PG's no doubt about it. They will very much handle the ball often and be a mismatch for anyone, especially when LeBron plays PG. Odom possesses good ball handling skills as well, kind of in a Pippen role for LA in this sense. Odom is as versatile as they come. Kobe does not like to handle the ball and play PG, he does not have the same passing ability that James and Wade have. Miller is like Odom so while Odom is indeed a better player, Miller can also do a little bit everything but he is also a much better shooter than all of them.
On paper, the Lakers have the advantage because of their veteran leadership and better natural PG's than Miami. Once things get mixed up though, the combination of James, Wade, Miller, Chalmers, and Eddie House is a bit too much to handle.
LA Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Sasha Vujacic, and Shannon Brown
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade and Eddie House
In my opinion, SG is the marquee match up. Dwyane Wade versus Kobe Bryant. What more can one possibly want? Kobe Bryant's resume speaks for itself. He is one the best to ever do it, and is still starving for more rings. Dwyane Wade is amazing to watch, his play alone is worth the price of admission and he is also extremely hungry for more rings. The depth behind both of these players is not overwhelming. Shannon Brown is an athlete and Vujacic has a nice shot. Eddie House is a clutch 3 point shooter and brings energy but not much else.
This truly does come down to Wade and Kobe. Kobe is as good as they come, along with Wade, both are in the conversation for the best player in the league. Lakers fans will deny that from Wade and some Heat fans may deny that from Kobe, but both are that good and both deserve to be the in conversation. Kobe has a superior jump shot, there is no denying he is a more consistent shooter than Wade. Kobe also can play very good defense, and is one of the more clutch players in the game. Wade has amazing speed and quickness. His ability to change directions leaves defenses constantly scratching their heads. Wade is also clutch like Kobe and can play lock down defense.
The reality is Wade is currently a better player than Kobe because of a few things: Wade has a lot less mileage than Kobe. Wade is 28 and has only played 7 seasons while missing several games in the process. He is 100% healthy and has been the past 2 seasons. Wade guards Kobe unlike any other player in my view. That is not to say he can stop Kobe though, no one can, Kobe is too good a shooter. At 32 and playing 14 seasons in the NBA, Kobe's nagging injuries are starting to catch up. Kobe can still play at the highest level but it seems that he loses the edge in some stretches. Wade dismantled the Boston Defense in the playoffs shooting over 56% while Kobe was often under 40% against the same defense. It must also be considered Wade was the clear focus on the Heat and Boston still could not stop him while Kobe had legitimate help from Gasol, Artest, Odom, and Fisher to pick him up.
I think Wade wins this match up because he can do everything Kobe does but better (Except shooting from distance). Wade is actually a great jump shooter when he steps up though. Wade will show he is slightly better when they meet, but do not expect Kobe to back down. Kobe does have a competitive drive just like Wade, so I'll call this match up even to avoid Lakers fans from going ballistic...or not.
LA Lakers: Ron Artest and Matt Barnes
Miami Heat: LeBron James and Mike Miller
My favorite character in the NBA is Ron Artest. You either love him or you hate him. What can I say, the guy is an entertainer. By the way, he is also a heck of a basketball player. Artest is one of the best defensive players of this era. He can defend multiple positions and he has the ability to score as well. He is no longer a 20 PPG player because he does not have to be nor should he be. He can defend almost anyone and brings defensive energy and attitude to the Lakers. Matt Barnes adds more fuel to the fire. Barnes is a solid defender and can hit the long range shot. These 2 players combined give the Lakers a great defensive presence. They don't shoot at a high percentage but they make it up with being able to give the Lakers a lot on the other side of the ball.
LeBron James, the self proclaimed "King" of the NBA. This "King" has no ring though. So, some may find it appropriate to call him Prince James. No matter, in my personal opinion, LeBron is the best player in the NBA. He possesses all the physical gifts any coach/player can dream of. He is only 25 years old and the scary thing is, he is probably going to get better, maybe a lot better. LeBron lead a solid supporting cast to 66 wins, and once lead an awful supporting cast to the finals. Now that he has 2 studs next to him, how can you stop him when he is not the only focus for the defense anymore? LeBron also has all the tools to be a lock down defender, he and Wade both stated they want to make 1st All-Defensive team this year, who is to say they won't? Mike Miller is a nice player. He can pass, dribble, and shoot lights out with the best of them (48% from 3 point FG% last year). But Miller is an awful defender and may be exposed against Barnes and Artest unless Miller moves around.
The advantage is still Miami here. LeBron James is too good. Denying James' competitive edge and fire is foolish. He wants a ring as bad as anyone, a lot of rings. Odom can play some SF, but there is no stopping LeBron. LeBron is too fast, too athletic, and too strong to be stopped by Artest or Barnes. It will be an intriguing match up, but LeBron is simply superior and Mike Miller is a heck of a player in his own right. No sane person can choose against LeBron here.
LA Lakers: Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom
Miami Heat: Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem
When Pau Gasol arrived from Memphis to LA, the Lakers became instant contenders. Gasol is that kind of player. He has been a 20 and 10 player his entire career. To some, Gasol was the MVP of the 2010 NBA Finals. I find it difficult to write that off as a possibility. Gasol is elite and I believe him to be the current best PF in the game. He was known as soft before coming to the Lakers, but he proved the critics wrong with his stellar physical play. He came through when needed most and showed the world Gasol is as good a big man in the NBA. He shoots from mid range, has a great post up game, solid inside moves, decent hook shot, and nice shot blocking ability. Still a liability defensively, his intelligence makes up for anything he lacks on that side of the court. Lamar Odom is one of the most versatile players in the game. He can do it all and is a mismatch for pretty much all other opposing PF's. Odom is a better defensive player than Gasol, but he also has a good dribble which allows him to drive to the basket. With great length, both players are excellent rebounders which gives the opposition fits with offensive boards and put backs.
Chris Bosh is also an elite PF. Say what you will about the raptors, Bosh kept that team afloat and might have made the playoffs if he was healthy. Bosh had a career year last year averaging 24 and 11 while being the clear cut main focus for the opposing squad. Bosh runs the floor as good as any big man in the game, and can shoot from all spots on the floor. He is athletic and long which allows him to have great inside moves that are almost impossible to stop. Udonis Haslem is the ultimate role player, he defends and he rebounds as good as anyone his size. A bit undersized at 6'8, he makes up for that lack of height with hustle and passion. He is a very good mid range shooter, and a great help defender who is not afraid to take charges. As a back up, Haslem grabbed about 9 RPG so the difference in rebounding between these two teams at PF is not as big as it may seem.
The advantage goes to the Lakers here. Gasol is currently a shade better than Bosh and Odom is still a better player than Haslem overall. Gasol is proven and although he and Bosh may cancel each other out offensively, Haslem won't match Odom there. Neither Gasol nor Bosh are great defenders (Gasol has more length anyway), so it may depend on which team plays better team defense. The Lakers simply have great depth here, it will be difficult for Miami to match up well here. Artest can play some PF and so can LeBron, but I don't see that happening but in an extreme case.
LA Lakers: Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff
Miami Heat: Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilguaskas
Andrew Bynum has to be considered one of the best young centers in the NBA. He is a 7 foot mammoth with good strength and great rebounding ability. He is a bit inconsistent but maybe his injuries have something to do with that. Yet the injuries are part of his misfortune. He can be one of the best centers in the game if you watch the way he plays. He is decent on the offensive end but he is still improving. He also moves very well when healthy so that helps him become a powerful rebounder. He provides the Lakers their own version of the twin towers but he must find consistency to be considered more than a slightly above average center. Theo Ratliff put in work over the years, at 37 years of age, he is no spring chicken. He does bring energy off the bench though, and can still rebound well, he won't be able to cover for Bynum for too long, but he is decent as a back up.
Joel Anthony is a player many people are sleeping on. People will try to pull out meaningless statistics or just try to ignore him because he is not a big name. The reality is Joel Anthony as a starter can be very productive. He is inept offensively but he can do defense just fine. He grabs about 7 rebounds per 36 minutes and gets 3 blocks per 36 minutes as well. In reality that is all you need from him. Maybe he can grab 8 RPG to go along with 3 BPG, but he is still a good defender man to man. Although undersized, do not forget Ben Wallace was 6'9 and won a championship with the Pistons in 2004 while guarding Shaq. Big Z is a huge individual, at 7'3 there is no way someone can say Miami does not have size down low. Big Z is slow footed though and did not shoot the ball very well last season. But because of his size, he has always been good at put backs and drawing centers out of position with his mid range jump shot. The Heat also have Magloire who is a big man that likes to beat people up and the rhino like rookie Dexter Pittman.
The advantage goes to the Lakers. Miami has several bodies to throw at the Lakers, but Bynum is definitely the most skilled of the whole bunch. Bynum is a more complete center, while Miami's centers specialize in certain areas while lacking badly in others. Theo Ratliff may not be good, but neither is Magloire or unproven rookie Pittman. Bynum is proven and Big Z's mobility issues may hurt the Heat even against a player like Ratliff who is a bit more active and has a little bit more hop in his step.
LA Lakers: Phil Jackson
Miami Heat: Erik Spoesltra
Uh, no contest. The "Zen Master" Phil Jackson is one of the best to ever do it. There is no refuting the notion that Phil knows how to win. Yes, he has coached great players but he knows how to help those great players succeed. Phil Jackson has 11 championships and counting. He is actually forced to put rings on his toes now. Health may be an issue. The 82 game grind is no longer a walk in the park for him, but he knows how to handle things come playoff time, and he is a coach you are lucky to have on your side.
Nothing against Erik Spoelstra, he is a good young coach. He took a mediocre team to 47 wins, sure Wade had a lot to do with it, but Spoelstra worked well with what he had. The thing is, he is unproven on the grandest stage. He still makes mistakes so he is still obviously learning the game. He has a great mentor in Pat Riley, but right now, he is no match for Jackson. Now if Pat Riley were to come back, that is a different story but I honestly don't expect that to happen unless the Heat are playing poorly.
Advantage Lakers on the coaching. Phil Jackson just knows how to do it... Spoelstra is up against a monster. Can Spoelstra beat Jackson? Sure, it is unlikely, very unlikely, but maybe Spoesltra turns out to be the next great head coach. But until the unfathomable occurs, Lakers win coaching by a landslide.
There are several things one must take into consideration when trying to figure out who would win the match up between the Lakers and the Heat.
Things such as intangibles, luck, officiating, health, and home court advantage can affect the outcome of this match up. Looking at this match up as a 7 game series, here is what I think is the deal:
Intangibles: Passion, hunger, chemistry, attitude, and leadership will all come into play. The passion should be equal, but the hunger edge has to go to Miami. Chemistry is something the Lakers already got down, with the additions of Barnes and Blake not expected to change that. The Heat must gel but I do expect them to be good once the playoffs the start. Leadership is present on both sides. Kobe and LeBron are vocal leaders and players such as Artest, Bosh, Wade, and Fisher provide their own ways of pumping up their respective teams. Both teams will have attitude so I expect a bit of a brawl at some point.
Luck: Well luck is luck.
Officiating: The Lakers have players such as Kobe and Gasol who can draw fouls. Artest is a technical foul waiting to happen though. I know he has chilled out, but the guy still causes mischief here and there which may hurt his team. Still no one draws fouls like Wade and LeBron, they might live on the stripe. Bosh is also a guy who can get to the foul line. Miami does not have a wild guy such as Artest, so the officiating may tip in Miami's favor.
Health: The Lakers have been a relatively healthy team and so has Miami. Kobe does have small nagging injuries and we don't know when they will really start to affect his game. Bynum is the biggest concern but the rest of the roster is usually fit to play. Wade has been 2 years straight healthy with no problems, LeBron is just a freak. Bosh was injured a bit last year but he has no real injury concerns. Big Z is way passed his injuries, and the rest of the roster does not really call for concern in that area. The Lakers are not old by any means, they are just the older team, so Miami may also have the edge here.
Home Court: This one is up for grabs, because it all depends on how their seasons turn out. I don't think Miami will win 72 games but I think they will end up with a better record. They are going to be pumped and in the mood to overwhelm the opposition. I see the Lakers losing 4-5 more games than the Heat, giving the Heat home court throughout the playoffs and the Lakers having home court until the Finals.
Winner: In all honesty, I think the Lakers are and should be the number 1 contender for the title. Back to back championships, and the most complete team in the league. BUT Miami does have 3 true elite players that are too difficult to match up with. In a 7 game series, Miami will be too much to overcome. Say what you will about the rest of the roster, but I think some people just do not understand what having LeBron, Wade, and Bosh on the same team truly means. It is a nightmare for the opposition. The Lakers are a great team, truly awesome, and can still play with any team. Kobe is great and I can't help but admire his game when I watch BUT: Miami wins the series in game 7 by about 8-10 points and earns their second championship.