As the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat go through their final preparations for Wednesday’s NBA Finals tipoff, there is momentum moving to the Heat.
The Lakers began the week as the prohibitive favourites to win the series and while they remain so, the Heat are starting to get some love from the general public.
The Lakers odds to win were -450 the night the Heat finished off Boston but in the interim that number has come down as low as -360 in some places.
There is little debate that the Lakers have the two best players in the series in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but beyond that the cupboard is rather bare for the Lakers. Depth is certainly not there for them.
The upstart Heat on the other hand have plenty of depth, but outside of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, aren’t anywhere close to matching the Lakers’ top-tier star power.
What the Heat do have, in addition to that depth that extends up and down the entire bench, is a four-year window into what makes LeBron James the dominant player that he is today, and rest assured, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and president Pat Riley will rely heavily on that.
The Heat also happen to have a few defenders that can make life that much harder on James, who has been carrying the Lakers, with the help of Davis most nights throughout their NBA bubble experience.
In Andre Iguodala, a man who will be playing in his sixth consecutive Finals, they have a guy who has seen more of James up close and personal in playoff mode than perhaps any other single defender.
In Jae Crowder, Spoelstra has another willing and physically able defender to deal with James’ unique mix of speed, size and agility.
And then there’s Jimmy Butler, the driving force behind the Heat and a willing and able James foil in his own right.
Make no mistake: how the Heat and how well or not the Heat defend LeBron James will likely be the determining factor in this series.
At centre, the Heat can counter Anthony Davis with Adebayo to some extent. Despite his lack of experience at just 23 years of age, Adebayo has been an eye opener throughout the playoffs.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel was asked about Adebayo’s potential impact on the series yesterday.
“He’s not becoming (a star), he’s already there,” Vogel said. “He’s terrific. I got the chance to spend a little time with him on all-star weekend and he’s a terrific young man. A great talent who really fits the modern NBA in terms of the centre position with all that he can do. Obviously being a dynamic roller, but like Nikola Jokic (the Denver Nuggets centre who the Lakers took out in the Western Conference Final) he will bring the ball up at the five position and run the break and make plays off the bounce which is very unique for the centre position and he can really do it all. He protects the rim defensively, can switch out and is a huge reason for their success this year.”
Vogel didn’t draw this comparison directly but earlier in the call, he was talking about the series’ they’ve been through and how those experiences have helped them prepare for a team like Miami. The Jokic/Adebayo similarities from an offensive standpoint are clearly part of that.
But, and Vogel is well aware of this, that is only one of many problems the Heat can present for an opponent.
He talked about the Heat having three all-star calibre players including of course Butler with Adebayo, but then put Goran Dragic in that group as well — with the qualifier that “when healthy” — Dragic is an all-star-calibre guard.
Through about 15 minutes of questions Monday, not once were the names Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson raised, two guys who, despite their lack of track record, have been huge offensive contributors for the Heat both for their outside shooting and in Herro’s case, as a guy who can just go out and create his own shot.
Vogel and his staff will have to counter all of that, while his counterpart in Miami, Erik Spoelstra really has to focus primarily on just the two-headed monster of James and Davis.
In that sense, this series will be a good test of the accepted notion that the NBA is a superstar-driven league where the superstars dictate outcomes.
If that is the case then the bookmakers will be correct in their one-sided view of this series.
The question is can Miami, led by the toughness of a Butler and the more well-rounded roster overcome two of the greatest players on one team that the NBA has ever seen?
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