It’s taken nearly twelve months to get here but it has finally arrived, game one of the NBA Finals. The season began way back in October of 2019 and came to a halt on the 11th of March due to COVID-19. A three month hiatus ensued before the season resumed in Orlando and now after one of the most memorable playoffs in recent history, it’s the red hot favourite Lakers taking on the Miami Heat.
ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Thursday 1st October, 11:00am (AEST)
The Lakers come into the Finals as the red hot favourites after a dominant playoff run, with 4-1 victories in all three rounds leading up to the Finals. LeBron James has been utterly dominant in the playoffs averaging 26.7 points, 8.9 assists and 10.3 rebounds per game as he heads to his tenth NBA Finals appearance. Anthony Davis has shown why the Lakers gave up so much to get him, averaging 28 points and 9 rebounds a game throughout the playoffs, including an incredible buzzer beater to beat the Nuggets in game two of the conference finals.
The Lakers came into this season with high expectations after the acquisition of Anthony Davis and they’ve lived up to the billing after finishing the regular season as the number one seed in the western conference. The Lakers possess the league’s third best offence and the fourth best defence, they’ve been excellent on both sides of the ball. An important factor for the Lakers this series is keeping their tall line-up in games for as long as possible. In the conference finals Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis were pivotal to the Lakers success. The Heat like to run a line up with Bam Adebayo at the centre surrounded by wings in Duncan Robinson, Andre Igudola and Jae Crowder who tend to play at the power forward position. The Heat don’t like to play with a traditional power forward so if the Lakers big duo gets going, they’re going to be hard to beat.
Throughout his playoff career LeBron has gained a reputation for using the first game of a series as a ‘feel out’ game, however this hasn’t been the case in the Finals. In his last four trips to the NBA Finals LeBron has notched up returns of 51, 28, 23 and 44 points, tallying up at an average of 36.5 points per game. Coming off a 38 point triple double to close out the conference finals, expect LeBron to send a statement in game one. He won’t have any troubles hitting the over on his points tally.
The Cinderella story of the 2020 NBA playoffs, Miami knocked off the number one seeded Bucks in the conference semi finals and then backed it up by upsetting the Celtics in the conference finals. The Heat’s magical run has been fuelled by even contributions across the board and excellent execution late in games. Goran Dragic (20.9 points per game in the playoffs), Jimmy Butler (20.7), Bam Adebayo (18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists) and rookie sensation Tyler Herro (16.5 points) have all produced game winning performances throughout the playoffs. With this Miami Heat team, the contributions can come from anywhere.
One of the biggest keys for the Heat is their three point shooting. Throughout the regular season and the playoffs Miami shot the lights out from three point land, in game six of the conference finals they shot 56.3% from three point range led by Andre Igudola’s 4/4 and Duncan Robinson’s 5/7 performances from downtown. Robinson shot 40% from three in the conference finals and has become one of the best catch and shoot players in the league. The star power vs depth angle to the series is arguably the most intriguing storyline coming into the series. The Lakers undoubtedly have the two best players in the series, but the Heat arguably would possess the next best five or six players. Whilst it hasn’t been challenged yet the Lakers depth is an area of concern, if Davis or LeBron struggle, will Kuzma or Rondo stand up?
Bam Adebayo produced the best game of his young career to close out the Celtics in game six of the conference finals with 32 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists. He was the Heat’s best player throughout the conference finals as he averaged 21.8 points, 11 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1 block per game. Adebayo produced on offence with both scoring and playmaking, and impacted just as much on the defensive end of the floor. Adebayo’s work on the boards has been incredible, in his last five games he has returns of 10, 16, 12, 8 and 14 rebounds. Game 3 of the western conference finals showed the Lakers can be vulnerable on the boards, expect Adebayo to punish the Lakers on the glass and hit the over on his rebound total.
The Lakers are red hot favourites and deservingly so, they’ve barely put a foot wrong throughout the playoffs and still have the best player on the planet on their side. Although the scene isn’t the traditional, with the likes of LeBron, Howard, Green, Rondo and McGee the Lakers have plenty of Finals experience that the Heat don’t possess. The Lakers will be looking to land an early blow, they won’t want to give Miami any sort of momentum given the run they are on. The conference finals showed that when the Heat won the close games and lost the blowouts. Three of the Heat’s four wins in that series were by single digits, whilst their two losses were by double digit margins. Given the similar difference in the top end talent that the Heat faced in the conference finals, expect similar type scorelines. The Lakers will be too good in game one, and they will cover the line in this one.
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