B/R Staff Roundtable: How Miami Heat Can Win 2020 NBA Finals
It's a fascinating journey that brings the 2020 Miami Heat to the NBA Finals.
After LeBron James' departure in 2014, the team doubled down on an aging Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, whose careers would be limited to injury and blood clot concerns. Five seasons later, the Heat are reaping the benefits of shrewd talent evaluation, elite coaching and two sign-and-trades that vaulted them from Eastern Conference contender to Eastern Conference champion.
But the Heat know the next step won't come easy. "If you want to win," Jimmy Butler told NBA TV, "you are going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team."
On top of that, no fifth seed has ever won an NBA title.
The Heat have done enough by overcoming both the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics in decisive fashion to earn this chance at beating the Los Angeles Lakers. They can't be expected to do the improbable against a dialed-in James, who appears as laser-focused as ever, but improbable doesn't mean impossible.
"It's going to have to be damn-near perfect to beat the Lakers," Butler said, as recorded by Ben Golliver.
Our experts weigh in on what it would take for the underdogs to shock the world one more time.
Bam Adebayo Makes Superstar Leap
L.A.'s biggest on-paper advantage is its superior star power courtesy of All-NBA first-teamers LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But if Bam Adebayo truly turned a corner with his 32-point, 14-rebound, five-assist masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, that could change the calculus of the championship round.
The 6'9", 255-pounder had shown flashes of elite-level ability, but this was different. This was Bam Unleashed: a merciless series of rim attacks that had him outmuscling and outperforming anyone in his path.
He won't have the same physical advantage against Davis (or Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee) that he enjoyed over Boston's Al Horford-less frontline, but Adebayo has the two-way skills to compensate. He's a legitimate five-position defender, plus the best point center not named Nikola Jokic.
Adebayo will surely have his hands full. He might have to bang with Howard or McGee on the block, hang with perimeter players on switches and serve one-on-one stints on both Davis and James. Miami will also need Adebayo to contribute as a scorer and distributor, potentially playing the primary role with either task any given night.
But if he tapped into something in Game 6 that helps him play Davis to a near-draw, then the Heat will have erased the Lakers' biggest edge. With Adebayo leading the charge, Jimmy Butler shape-shifting into whatever the co-star role calls for and Miami's supporting cast flying around defensively and splashing three-balls, the Heat will be hoisting their fourth NBA championship banner into the AmericanAirlines Arena rafters.
Anyone but LeBron...
The Heat didn't come into the 2019-20 NBA season as a favorite, but they've exceeded expectations throughout the playoffs. They'll face their biggest test against LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the NBA Finals.
The critical individual matchup for Miami will be Bam Adebayo against Davis. If Adebayo can limit Davis' production without significant help or foul trouble, the Heat can focus on the bigger game plan—dealing with James.
The key will be taking away driving lanes. A bad Lakers possession has James dribbling at the top of the key for eight seconds, looking for cutters and driving angles before settling for a long jumper (or lobbing the ball to Davis in the post against a defender like Adebayo with help nearby). If that's how the Lakers are playing, that's a sign the Heat's defensive scheme is working.
The bigger goal is to make sure that if anyone hurts the Heat, it's not James. Miami needs to put that pressure on players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris. Clog the paint to prevent James from carving up the Heat's defense. The Lakers role players aren't as prolific as Miami's many scorers.
Surpassing the Lakers will be a huge challenge, but the Heat have come into each postseason series prepared. They'll need their best series of the playoffs to win the title.
Heat Depth Tips the Scale
The Lakers have the two best players in the NBA Finals, but this doesn't equal a death sentence for the Heat.
Yes, star power typically wins titles, but Miami already knocked out Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum in back-to-back rounds in large part due to the depth of the team and the contributions they've received up and down the roster.
While 48.7 percent of the Lakers' points per game comes from just two players, the Heat have six players averaging double digits in scoring this postseason.
Miami's already won five games in these playoffs when Jimmy Butler has scored under 20 points, including a 99-87 victory over the Indiana Pacers in which Butler dropped just six. The Lakers don't have the luxury of James or Davis having an off night.
The Heat have already gotten monster games from Bam Adebayo (32 points and 14 rebounds in a Game 6 win over the Boston Celtics) and Tyler Herro (37 points in a Game 4 win against Boston), while Goran Dragic actually leads the team in postseason scoring.
Much like the 2004 champion Detroit Pistons, the Heat will need a group effort to take down a star-studded Lakers team.
The Lakers like to stay big with Anthony Davis at the 4 and Dwight Howard manning the 5. Doing so slows the beatings Davis takes in the post and allows him to roam on the defensive end.
In this matchup, the Miami Heat will likely force Davis out of his comfort zone early. Inserting Howard against Bam Adebayo would leave Davis or LeBron James chasing Duncan Robinson around screens for 40 minutes. That's not ideal for L.A. Robinson is connecting on 40 percent of his 7.3 attempts this postseason. The Lakers could look to "hide" Davis or James on Jimmy Butler. Butler is a five-time All-Star, but he hasn't shot above 35 percent from three since his Chicago days.
The most likely scenario sees Howard off the floor and Davis going head-to-head with Bam. This could be an advantage for the Heat because of Bam's ability to dictate the offense from above the arc. Keeping AD out on the perimeter will open up the basket for cutters like Butler, Herro, Dragic and others with no help at the rim.
Regardless of what the Lakers decide to do, the Heat's ability to drain the deep ball will force the Lakers superstars to expend an unusual amount of effort on the defensive end, which could tire them out at the end of games. For that to come to fruition, the Heat will have to keep moving, hit shots early and force the Lakers to adjust accordingly.
Break out the Zone
Throughout the playoffs—especially in the second round against the Bucks and in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics—Miami has been able to throw a zone at opposing offenses to slow them down. The Lakers have yet to face that particular defensive tactic for an extended stretch for this postseason.
With how reliant the Lakers are on LeBron James and Anthony Davis to create the majority of their offense, the zone is an adjustment Erik Spoelstra could make to take the Lakers out of their game and prevent James and Davis from getting the kind of help they need from the rest of the roster. It could also be a way to take the Lakers' two centers, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, off the floor in favor of shooters, which could benefit Miami on the other end of the floor.
Don't expect the Heat to start out in the zone. They'll try to beat the Lakers without it. But if they need to go there, they will.