B/R Staff: How Los Angeles Lakers Can Win 2020 NBA Finals
The seeding tournament and playoffs in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, came with the potential for uncertain results. And yet, it feels as if the two most impressive teams emerged, and there's a fascinating subplot.
LeBron James will play in his 10th NBA Finals against the franchise with which he won his first two titles in 2012 and 2013. The Miami front office remains largely the same, with Pat Riley as team president and Erik Spoelstra as head coach. Could they prepare a strategy to overpower the three-time Finals MVP?
It seems fitting the Lakers have the chance to add to their mantle 10 years after Kobe Bryant brought home their last chip, but the Heat are not to be underestimated.
Our staff weighed in on what Anthony Davis, LeBron and the Lakers will need to do to avoid an upset.
The Battle of the Role Players
The primary advantage the Heat have over the Lakers, on paper, is their supporting cast.
The Heat, in addition to All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, have gotten big performances at different points during their playoff run from Tyler Herro, Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Duncan Robinson.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have been more top-heavy. In 15 playoff games, only one player not named LeBron James or Anthony Davis has scored 20 points in a game—Rajon Rondo had 21 in Game 3 of their second-round series against the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers have the best player in the world—and probably the two best in the series—but the Heat have them beat for depth, at least as far as supporting players who can be counted on night to night.
L.A. has some players capable of getting hot, such as Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But it's been a two-man show thus far.
If the Lakers got more from their role players, they should take care of business.
The Battle with Bam Adebayo
The Heat do not present tremendous depth in their frontcourt, but they do have an All-Star to go toe-to-toe against Anthony Davis. Bam Adebayo will need to carry a heavy load, both offensively and defensively.
The Lakers have the luxury of multiple big men, freeing Davis from the responsibility of banging with Adebayo all series. JaVale McGee offers length and athleticism. Markieff Morris isn't as tall but is tough and helps L.A. stretch the floor with his outside shot. But the key to the series could be Dwight Howard, who was vital in the Lakers' Western Conference Finals win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel will need to work his rotation to maximize Howard's minutes by mirroring Adebayo's. That might mean starting Howard over McGee, or McGee could open each half to give Howard a little more freedom to play hard without worrying about fouls.
If L.A. can neutralize Adebayo's offensive impact with Howard while matching his physical toughness, Davis will be able to put more energy into carrying the offensive load and helping others defensively.
Miami will have a lot to handle in LeBron James, but Davis may be the key to the series for the Lakers, and that may hinge on how Howard fares versus Adebayo.
LeBron James can dismantle opponents a number of ways, but his incredible passing may be the hardest thing for teams to game-plan for.
The Heat are good enough defensively to slow down James' scoring, much like they did against MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round. Individual players such as Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Bam Adebayo can use their strength and athleticism to bother James, and Miami has used zone on occasion this postseason to put teams in offensive funks.
With Anthony Davis capable of leading the Lakers in scoring, L.A. may need James' passing more than anything.
The Lakers were 19-4 this regular season when James recorded 12 or more assists (they are 1-1 in the playoffs), as his strength and vision enables him to find bigs rolling to the rim and open shooters across the court.
Good passing and outside shooting are always key against a zone defense, so putting Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso on the perimeter and letting James draw extra defenders before zipping pinpoint passes would give the Lakers an advantage the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics didn't have against the Heat.
James will certainly get his share of looks as well, but his point guard skills may be more valuable.
Containing the Backcourt
The plan for the Lakers will be to press the Heat on the perimeter to limit their league-best shooting efficiency. There are obvious challenges that come with defending Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but stopping the backcourt will be key.
If L.A. presses too hard and offers Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro paths, it'll be up to LeBron James and Anthony Davis to recognize it and rotate to stop them before they get within 12 feet of the basket.
Dragic has become Miami's most valuable offensive player. He's first in scoring and second in assists and plus-minus in 15 playoff games. Herro flies around the perimeter and curls around screens, but he can also put defenses on their heels in the pick-and-roll by driving past his defender.
Davis and the Lakers can't leave these two unchallenged on the perimeter, and they can't give them full heads of steam. Dragic can float the rock from the mid-range to the hoop, while Herro can contort his body and finish with either hand when in motion.
L.A. ranked third in defensive rating thanks to Davis and the resurgence of James. With their broad shoulders and wingspans combined with Dwight Howard's work in the paint to the elbow and the perimeter, opponents have had trouble finding open looks.
Anthony Davis Becomes Superhuman
We've seen flashes of Anthony Davis' top-five potential dating back to his rookie season of 2012-13. Despite making seven All-Star teams with four All-NBA and four All-Defensive selections, the two-way unicorn had managed just one playoff series victory before linking up with LeBron James.
Was the problem the New Orleans Pelicans organization? Or did Davis fail to seize critical moments and carry his teammates the way a franchise player should?
We know what LeBron will bring, but for the Lakers to squash the Heat's feel-good story, Davis will need to display Hall of Fame mettle.
His unique qualities as a help defender will be put to the test as Miami's dangerous collection of three-point specialists force him to use his length all over the floor. Perhaps even more dangerous is the Heat's variety of backcourt creators who can generate myriad looks at the basket or in the short mid-range.
On the offensive end, he'll be matched with another defensive savant in Andre Iguodala along with Jae Crowder and breakout star Bam Adebayo.
The 23-year-old Adebayo won't shy from Davis' length or physicality, and his ability to affect an offense at every level may dictate Davis' movement.
The Lakers haven't faced a challenge in the bubble like the one the Heat will present. Will Davis rise to the occasion and cement his legacy?