The NBA season tips off on Wednesday (AEST) with drama, as ever, guaranteed. In a two-part series here on The Roar, we analyse the contenders and favourites from the two conferences, starting in the west.
Heading into the season, who would’ve thought we would get the pairing of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat in the NBA finals?
Some even speculated both teams would be eliminated much earlier, but here we are, and with both teams having a play-off record of 12-3, we should be in for a treat of a series.
When you glance at both teams, it’s a simple case of the best players going up against the best team. The Lakers will have the best players on the floor when Anthony Davis and LeBron James are on the court. However, the Heat have a case of being more well-rounded and possessing a deeper team.
Looking at the numbers: there isn’t a lot that separates the teams either offensively or defensively. Both teams average a similar number of rebounds and assists. Additionally, both teams give up almost 12 three-point baskets a game, have identical opponent field goal percentages and concede a similar number of points per game.
But the Lakers have the slight edge in points scored and field goal percentage. Meanwhile, the Heat are a better free-throw shooting team than the Lakers.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as a lot of Lakers players prefer to get shots close to the rim and are more efficient as a result. On the other hand, free-throw shooting has been an Achilles heel for the Lakers all season, and that can certainly come into effect during close games.
One area to monitor will be the three-point shooting of both teams, as it can certainly swing a series. In the regular season the Heat were the second-best three-point shooting team in the league in terms of efficiency while the Lakers ranked 21st.
In these play-offs Miami have cooled off slightly, and through 15 games both teams are shooting an identical 35 per cent from deep.
This series will come down to certain match-ups and how Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra may adjust accordingly. Fans know the Lakers are naturally a big team and have plenty of tall bodies they can throw at Miami, especially at Bam Adebayo. But the Lakers have the wildcard of Anthony Davis. How they utilise him will be interesting.
While Vogel has the luxury of sending a Javale McGee or Dwight Howard to disrupt Adebayo, you would think Bam would be the best defender for Anthony Davis. Everyone else would either be undersized or too slow. Don’t be shocked to see the Lakers feed Davis early and target Adebayo to try and get him in early foul trouble.
Kelly Olynyk may have his number called this series, as he will need to provide support at the centre position for Bam. His ability to stretch the floor will be key, but he will have to also do his best defensively.
Then you have LeBron James. Any rotation of Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala or Jae Crowder could attempt to wear him out throughout the series. While he will manage to post big numbers, slowing him down in clutch moments late will be key for Miami.
The Lakers will be desperately hoping for consistent production from their supporting cast. While Anthony Davis and LeBron James have consistently been amazing in all three series so far, they haven’t had a third player average more than 11.2 points per game in a series.
The scary factor for Miami is that Jimmy Butler does not need to have a great performance for Miami to win. The Heat consistently have six players who can score over ten points and can get contributions from anyone when it counts.
Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope being the next best players doesn’t invoke confidence compared to Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson.
Again, the battle between Vogel and Spoelstra will be key as both coaches need to dictate the game and tempo to their advantage. While Spoelstra usually has line-ups where at least four players can shoot threes and space the floor, Vogel can counter with a tall line-up to try and dominate rebounds allowing potential second-chance points.
The Lakers will be looking to play fast, allowing LeBron and Rondo to create opportunities in transition. On the other hand, the Heat will be hoping to control the pace as they have well-executed half-court sets with lots of movement and action. Controlled fastbreak opportunities can also benefit Miami at times as it allows their shooters to get good looks before the defence is set.
As a neutral fan, this series will have plenty of firework, and we have touched on many varying factors where each team can get the upper hand over the other. You have a hungry and fearless team going up against the brilliance of two of the world’s best players.
If the Lakers can get quality and consistent production from their role players, it could overwhelm Miami. But you just know the Heat will make the Lakers work for everything.
Most likely many would appreciate the underdogs in Miami to upset the juggernaut. While the heart wants Miami to win, the head says the Lakers having the best players in the series will win it all.
Overall, this series will probably go to seven games with the Los Angeles Lakers as the champions.