More than 11 months after the NBA season began, it’s almost time to crown a champion.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat will meet in the NBA Finals to finish up the longest (and strangest) NBA season ever played. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA suspended play on March 11, before resuming inside the “bubble” of Orlando's Walt Disney World Resort in July for a modified finish to the regular season and the playoffs.
This postseason been as exciting and unpredictable as any in recent memory. Despite winning his second-straight MVP Award (along with Defensive Player of the Year), Giannis Antetokounmpo and the No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks were bounced in the second round by an upstart Miami Heat team, which then knocked off a stacked and experienced Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Denver Nuggets became the first team to ever come back from two consecutive 3-1 series deficits, but after shocking the league by sending Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers home in round two, they were eliminated by LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers in five games.
Now that you’re caught up, let’s take a look at the Finals schedule and what to expect from each team.
Game 1, Wed. Sept. 30: Heat at Lakers | 9pm ET on ESPN3
Game 2, Fri. Oct. 2: Heat at Lakers | 9pm ET on ESPN3
Game 3, Sun. Oct. 4: Lakers at Heat | 7:30pm ET on ESPN3
Game 4, Tue. Oct. 6: Lakers at Heat | 9pm ET on ESPN3
Game 5 (if necessary), Fri. Oct. 9: Heat at Lakers | 9pm ET on ESPN3
Game 6 (if necessary), Sun. Oct. 11: Lakers at Heat | 7:30pm ET on ESPN3
Game 7 (if necessary), Tue. Oct. 13: Heat at Lakers | 9pm ET on ESPN3
2019-20 record: 52-19 overall
Offensive rating: 111.7 (11th) | Playoffs: 115.6 (second)
Defensive rating: 106.1 (third) | Playoffs: 107.8 (fifth)
Finals Odds (as of 9/29): -400
LeBron’s first season with the Lakers may have been a wash, but his second year in the purple and gold has gone according to plan (except for, well, you know…). After paying a King’s ransom to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, LA used their two-headed attack to claim the No. 1 seed in the West and eventually, put the Lakers back in the Finals for the 32nd time (yes, haters, you read that right).
LeBron and AD have looked like the superstars they are throughout the playoffs, but the key to the Lakers winning it all will be their role players. Dwight Howard looked great against the Nuggets, and “Playoff” Rondo has reemerged intermittently to chip in with scoring bursts and pesky defense. However, despite LeBron and Davis averaging a combined 55.5 ppg in the playoffs, the next-leading scorer—Kyle Kuzma with 10.5 per—is the only other Laker averaging double-digit points. If the Lakers want to beat a deep and irrationally confident Heat squad, they will need the rest of the team to step up in the Finals.
2019-20 record: 44-29 overall
Offensive rating: 111.9 (seventh) | Playoffs: 112.7 (fourth)
Defensive rating: 109.3 (12th) | Playoffs: 108.6 (seventh)
Finals Odds (as of 9/29): +320
Sometimes stats don’t tell the story and that’s certainly the case with the Miami Heat in the bubble. Miami made the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the East but they’ve looked like the best team in the tournament. Give coach Erik Spoelstra a ton of credit: With a roster this young and inexperienced, the Heat were supposed to be years away from the stage where they now find themselves.
They might not be done. Led by the unflappable Jimmy Butler, Miami plays with a swaggerific confidence (just yesterday, he told the media that “I just don't think that we're underdogs”). Jimmy Buckets is going to be a focal point for the Lakers but their real problem may be third-year big man Bam Adebayo. He scored 32 points in Miami's close-out win over the Celtics and single-handedly (single-fingeredly?) gave them another win thanks to one of the most unbelievable blocked shots you will ever see. If Bam gives Davis a dose of the defense we’ve seen him play thus far and the Heat can continue to rely on the sharp-shooting of rookie sensation Tyler Herro, we could wind up with the most surprising NBA champs since the 2003 Detroit Pistons.
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