With the additions of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and a supporting cast of role players to Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat, they have become the odds on favorite in many circles to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers for this year’s NBA Championship.
Since fans of both teams and many NBA analysts seem ready to dismiss both teams' conference opponents, let’s preview the 2011 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
Neither team is very strong at point guard, but the matchup between Mario Chalmers and Derek Fisher will be an important one in any contest between the two teams.
It is a classic contest between veteran guile and young athleticism.
Chalmers’ speed gives him an edge on both ends of the floor but on this Miami Heat team Chalmers’ will not have many responsibilities, potentially not even bringing the ball up the floor. This makes Fisher the more important player in a seven game series as he has been known to drain clutch shots in big moments when the Lakers desperately need somebody not named Bryant to step up out on the floor.
Surprisingly this category goes to the Heat.
There is no getting around the fact that regardless of who is more talented, the Heat simply do not need contributions from Chalmers’ on offense to be successful. In order to win his matchup and help his team win, all Chalmers’ needs to do is stop Fisher which should not be much of an issue for the younger, more athletic, and constantly improving former Jayhawk.
The showdown between Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant is the marquee matchup of any series between the Heat and Lakers.
They are undoubtedly two of the league’s top three players and both players possess solid skills in all aspects of the game. Kobe is a better scorer, but Wade is a better distributor and probably has the edge in rebounding as well.
Playing with LeBron will likely limit Wade’s shooting and bring down his scoring average, but those points will not be lost, simply just shifted across the box score to LeBron. In fact, the matchup between Kobe and Wade cannot even be measured without taking into account that Kobe must not only outproduce Wade, but help to pick up some of the slack from Ron Artest’s matchup with LeBron.
In the two games last year that saw Wade and Kobe face off, Kobe outscored Wade by a total of 19 points, but Wade recorded 15 more assists. Look for the box scores to be even more lopsided in that direction this season as Wade finally has weapons to share the ball with and Kobe needs to score now more than ever.
This one is a push as both players are just too good to differentiate between.
Also both players need to find a balance in their games between scoring and distributing, especially Kobe to his big men, in order for their teams to win. Whoever plays the most efficient basketball and finds that balance will most likely lead their team to victory, but in a 99 game series, it would likely come down to the final game so this one is just too close to call.
Interestingly enough the matchup at small forward between LeBron James and Ron Artest could be the deciding matchup even with Kobe facing off against Wade on the same court.
This contest is completely one sided in that it all revolves around LeBron’s production. Artest is one of the best defensive players in the league and if he can limit LeBron on a regular basis to simply mortal numbers, then the Lakers' chances of winning the series rise exponentially.
There is no way to not give LeBron the edge here. He is going to produce regardless of who is covering him. The question is will Artest be able to limit him enough to allow Kobe and the Lakers’ front court to win the game?
Another great matchup straight out of an NBA All-Star game pits Chris Bosh against Pau Gasol.
Gasol showed the league that he is a legitimate star in the 2010 NBA Finals and certainly looked as good as any power forward in the league. Bosh is also a marvelous talent, but it has yet to be seen how his production will play out with the move from alpha dog on a bad team to third option on a championship caliber roster.
This one goes to the Lakers.
While the talent gap between Gasol and Bosh is not monumental, the fact remains that Gasol’s polish and touch around the rim are simply unmatched in this league. If he maintains the defensive toughness that he exhibited in the run to the 2010 Championship, he will be hard to match up against.
For this comparison, the assumption is being made that the Lakers make the correct decisions and allow Bynum enough time to recover and stay healthy in the run up to this hypothetical championship series. With that said, a healthy Bynum will be an absolute necessity and potentially the Lakers' greatest asset if they hope to defeat the Heat in the Finals. The Heat are weakest at the center position and the Lakers will need to use their size and skill set in the frontcourt to exploit this matchup.
The Lakers have the edge here too, but like in the earlier matchup between Kobe and Wade, the Lakers need Bynum to out produce both the Heat’s center and help to mitigate the damage LeBron does in his matchup against Artest.
While both teams have solid benches filled with role players and shooters, there is simply nobody on either bench that comes anywhere close to the asset that is Lamar Odom. Especially against the Heat who will struggle against teams that slow the game down and pound it inside, the luxury of having a player with a refined skill set, abnormal athleticism, and excellent size will be absolutely invaluable in this series.
The Lakers almost certainly have the best bench in basketball, not just in terms of talent, but also in terms of their ability to use the bench to compliment their starting five. The production the Lakers get from their bench could very realistically be the difference over a seven game series between these two teams.
It feels wrong to even evaluate the category, but for the sake of due diligence it should be noted that Phil Jackson has won more titles than any coach in NBA history. Erik Spoelstra could be a wonderful coaching talent, but there is no substitute for experience.
And your 2011 NBA Champions are…
The Los Angeles Lakers.
Yes, the Heat have an absolutely loaded roster. Yes, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade comprise two thirds of the list of the NBA’s three best players.
However, the Lakers still have the best team in the NBA.
The Lakers lineup has been designed, revised, and fine tuned to the point that everyone on the floor compliments everyone else. The Heat have one weakness, being their lack of star power in the front court past Chris Bosh, and the Lakers have two of the league’s best big men. The Heat have two of the league’s best scorers who surely cannot be stopped. The Lakers have the best pure scorer in basketball and the league’s best defensive stopper. The bench, the coaching, the experience, the chemistry all side with Los Angeles.
Now many Heat fans will disagree and many will point to the Olympic experience to illustrate just how well Wade, LeBron, and Bosh can play together.
Well there is no nation of Los Angeles and Team USA, although tested, did not see an opposing roster anywhere near as loaded as that of the Lakers. While the Olympics may have shown that LeBron and Wade can coexist and even thrive, one question that needs to be asked of every Heat fan is when the gold medal game was on the line and Team USA needed a scorer to step up and make clutch shots, who was it that is widely accredited with doing just that?
The answer, some guy named Kobe Bryant, you may have heard of him.