Buckle up buckaroos this here’s the wildest Bubble on Earth! If you told me you had called Heat/Lakers for the cookie at the beginning of this season which now dates back to this same time last year I’d call BS. And yet here we are. Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron James vs. Pat Riley. Maybe not the NBA dream match up of Lakers/Celtics but pretty darn close, all things considered.
- The Battle of the Defenses. Both teams have a multitude of ways they like to deny the favored attack of their opposition. We just saw a Miami team with nobody much over 6’10” (Kelly Olynyk go ahead and raise your hand) in the rotation shut down the paint against the Boston Celtics who, up to that point, had thrived there. So what makes anyone think the Lakers will fare any better? Two words: LeBron James. The Heat defense did well containing the minuscule Kemba Walker who gamely still tried driving the ball to the rim. Tatum and Brown drive when there’s a lane but not as a matter of pure offensive shot creation via the score or pass. That’s LeBron’s game to a T. Conversely the Lakers just showed that they can defend like a hydra, each head specializing in a different kind of shut down. Zone? Sure, man-to-man? Yup. Switch everything? that’s a big “can do good buddy!” Miami will have more issues penetrating the Lakers defense than we will have theirs but I still expect it to be a fascinating chess match as the game within the game between Spo and Frank unfolds on national TV. Edge: Lakers.
- Starters vs. Starters. The Miami Heat revamped their starting five once the playoffs started and to devastating effect. Tyler Herro was replaced by former All Star Goran Dragic who promptly unlocked the best version of the Miami Heat offense. Dragic functions like the shrimp version of LeBron James in that his drives are twofold in their goal: score or hit the wide open man. Same goes Bam Adebayo. The Miami point-center likes to get the ball in a multitude of spots and then either can jumpers, break his man down off the dribble or assist a teammate. Much like our own AD. Biggest difference really is that our guys are bigger and shoot a little more efficiently (thanks mainly to our dedication to attacking the rim). Duncan Robinson will have to deal with Danny Green who has made defense his calling card since he entered the league in what will be the battle of three and D shooting guards. KCP will attempt to check Dragic but will have elite help lurking near the paint. The biggest question for the Lakers will be if Dwight Howard starts over JaVale McGee which I think likely. For the Heat the biggest question is what version of Jae Crowder they get. Will it be the light’s out shooter from three we saw at the Bubble’s beginning or the on/off shooter we’ve seen of late? His defense will be staunch but if he’s making his open shots from three it will be a big problem for our defense. Edge: Lakers if Dwight starts, even if JVMG.
- Battle of the Benches. I feel like this is where the series will be won or lost. The Miami Heat have some key pieces coming off the bench. Andre’ Iguodala will be no stranger to basketball fans and looks like he’s rounding into form just in time for the NBA Finals. That’s bad news for the Lakers if he can recapture any of the play-making, shooting or defense akin to when he won NBA Finals MVP over LBJ. AI is a five tool player who, when on, presents a match up nightmare for opposing defensive schemes. A willing passer, able shooter from anywhere, with above average size, quickness and strength that makes him a force on both ends. Add Tyler Herro to that mix off the bench and you quickly see how Rondo, Caruso, Morris and McGee will have issues matching . Makes me wonder if Frank has a trick or two in terms of Jared Dudley, Dion Waiters or even Talen Horton-Tucker getting some burn, especially in the second quarter when LeBron and Davis generally get the most rest. One thing is for certain: I expect both coaches to empty the tool box to find the advantage that wins them 4 games. Nothing is (or at least shouldn’t) be off the table. Edge: Miami.
- Spo vs. Vogel. I actually think the Laker offense is very similar to the offense that ousted Vogel when LeBron was on Miami and he was coaching Indy. They have a similar “we have some plays but let’s really just get out of LeBron’s way and let the best player do his thing” look to them. It’s on defense where both coaches leave a lot more of their mark on their respective teams. But in general I think the advantage here is pretty even. Neither coach is so invested in a specific style or scheme that they’re unwilling to adapt. Spo’s get’s the edge in playoff experience, Frank has the edge in player’s with playoff experience. Both are professionals, classy and savvy. Edge: even.
- So how’s this going to end dude? Glad you asked! This series will be hard fought and decided on defense. The Lakers have the size edge and the talent edge so it’ll take something evening that scale for Miami to have a real shot. Having said that the Heat have surprised everyone at every turn, done a great job at living at the line and imposing their will on defense. Bam is an up and coming star, Jimmy was one before he came to Miami and everyone forgets Dragic was an All Star a couple years back but has been hobbled in recent years. I’m calling Lakers in 6 and tonight might be one of those losses. I say that because we haven’t faced this version of Miami, yet. We faced the old “we’re starting a bunch of rookies an dhaving vets come off the bench and we also don’t have Iggy” version of Miami. It’s a different team and so it might take us a game to adapt. If we win game 1 my prediction might be off by one game. Lakers in 6 baby!!!!! (no GHE malarkey from LT, either, this is a real 6 gamer!)
One way or another this is a moment to be enjoyed by Laker Nation. Been a helluva long time coming and it’s been a lot of fun watching this all play out in the playoffs. Whatever you do, savor the moment. These things aren’t guaranteed and we’ve just come through one of the darkest chapters in Lakers’ history. So let’s wipe the slate clean, tie Boston at 17 and bring home a cookie for Kobe. 1-2-3-MAMBA!!!!