Lakers

Lakers’ Advantages Outweigh Those of the Heat

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Let’s disregard all the narratives surrounding the 2020 NBA Finals. No LeBron James facing his old team. No Pat Riley facing his old team. Forget the Jimmy Butler “team killer” nonsense, which he’s laid to rest, for the record. Hold off on the Dwight Howard comeback season.

Forget how LeBron reportedly tried to get Erik Spoelstra fired when he was with the Miami Heat. Momentarily ignore the pandemic and the fact that the Finals are being played in a bubble. Lastly, let’s put aside the notion of the Lakers trying to win the title to honor the late, great Kobe Bryant.

Instead, let’s focus our attention on the game of basketball and how the two best NBA teams measure up to one another. Because we’re in for a series that will feature elite defense, a chess match between coaches and a battle between arguably the two-most versatile bigs in the league.

Offense

Both teams have fairly similar offensive numbers this postseason. The Lakers are averaging 114 PPG on 50/36/75 shooting splits. They also record 26 assists per contest. The Heat average 112 PPG on 46/36/82 splits and dish out 25 assists per game.

LAL shoots better from the field while Miami is better at the stripe. The latter also has snipers beyond the arc in rookie Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, who’s ascended to an elite shooter in the bubble. Herro’s connecting on 38 percent of his threes in the playoffs, and Robinson 40 percent. Those impressive numbers come on a combined 14 attempts per game, too.

Goran Dragic, the team’s starting point guard, makes 2.5 triples a game also. Meanwhile, Jae Crowder jacks up eight triples a contest but makes slightly under three of them, a 34 percent clip. These four players are clearly the Heat’s top shooters and will be difficult for Frank Vogel’s club to stop. The Herro-Bam Adebayo pick-and-roll is particularly deadly.

For LA, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the team’s best perimeter shooter. He’s shooting 42 percent on 5.1 attempts a game this postseason. Markieff Morris and Rajon Rondo are shooting 44 and 45 percent from deep, respectively, but on less than three attempts. Danny Green and LeBron shoot 35 percent on five attempts each. So the Lakers have guys that can knock down outside shots, and when they are connecting, they’re nearly unbeatable. But, no one on the Lakers’ roster shoots it like Herro or Robinson can. That’s just a fact.

But thankfully for the Lakers, shooting isn’t just about the perimeter. They love to attack the rack as we see nightly from LeBron, Rondo, Alex Caruso and more.

They also like to get out and score in transition, although, that will be tough against this Heat team that prioritizes transition defense. Still, LAL shoots nearly 60 percent on two-point field goals and averages 52.3 paint points for the season, second in the NBA, per Team Rankings. The Heat rank last in that category with just 43.2 paint points a night, and that will only get harder against rim protectors like Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee.

The Lakers might not have better shooters than the Heat, but they don’t rely on the three ball and rather look to get easy shots on the break, driving to the basket and slashing to the rim. They also convert on those looks. If they happen to be splashing in triples, the wins become blowouts.

Offensive advantage: Lakers

Defense

Miami is going to play a lot of zone against LAL. It’s coming, so don’t be surprised when you see it in Game 1 Wednesday. The Heat played a ton of zone against a Boston team that has shooters like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker. The problem for the Celtics in the first two games was they didn’t have someone who could effectively operate in the middle of the zone as a scorer and playmaker.

Gordon Hayward returned in Game 3, but it was a bit late at that point, although Boston did push the series to six.

The Lakers have someone who can beat the Miami zone in the middle in a variety of ways: Anthony Davis. He’s lethal from midrange and can find the open man whether it be on the wings, in the corners or in the paint. If Adebayo steps up to AD at the free throw line, and Howard is hovering around the paint, the Lakers will do damage, whether it’s via lob pass from The Brow or the five-time rebounding champ Howard cleaning up the glass.

Where things will be tough for the Lakers is when they try to penetrate the Heat’s defense, zone or man. Miami does an outstanding job rotating and closing driving lanes with multiple defenders. This could cause problems for LeBron, especially if he’s being guarded by Butler or Crowder.

Adebayo protecting the paint will also make things difficult for LeBron and company. We saw what the star big man did to Tatum on national television when he tried to punch one on him.

The Lakers will make things hard for the Heat as well, however. They limit easy looks at the rim and like Miami, rotate well on shooters. They’re a great rebounding team and have a size advantage in this series with Howard, Davis, LeBron and McGee (if he plays).

Dragic will present problems for the Lakers with his ability to penetrate and finish in the paint. Thankfully for the Lakers, they’ve been tested with elite guards throughout the Western Conference Playoffs.

Miami, on the other hand, hasn’t faced an elite big man like Davis this postseason, and he will give Spo’s team plenty of trouble.

There’s not a big discrepancy in defense between these two teams. Their individual scoring defense and shooting defense numbers are fairly identical. They both also force their opponents into almost the same amount of turnovers.

But he Lakers’ individual defenders, combined with team defense, outweigh those of the Heat’s by a slight margin. Davis, LeBron, Caruso, KCP, Rondo and Dwight vs. Adebayo, Butler, Crowder and Iggy. It’s a slight edge, but it’s an edge.

Defense advantage: Lakers

Experience

LeBron has now been to the Finals in nine out of the last 10 years. Read that again. If there’s anyone with an advantage here, it’s the Lakers. Rondo and Green have each played in (and won) the Finals. Howard played in the 2009 Finals with Orlando but came up short against the same team whose colors he now sports.

The only Miami rotation player who’s logged championship minutes is Iguodala. Now appearing in his sixth-straight championship series, the 2015 Finals MVP faced LeBron from 2015-2018, winning three rings in the process. And that FMVP award he won — it was for his “stellar” defense on The King, who averaged 36 points, 13 boards and nine assists that series. But that’s a story for another day.

Spoelstra has the coaching edge over Vogel as far as Finals experience goes, and, well, he’s the better coach, too. Let’s just put that out there. He did, by the way, get this Miami team this far without a “superstar” and beat the Bucks and Celtics along the way. He’s also 3-0 against Vogel in their postseason matchups. We have to give credit where credit is due.

When asked about the hallmarks of Spoelstra-led teams, here’s what Vogel had to say:

“Play hard, play together. They always play that way. They have great toughness, high care factor on the defensive end, and they always trust the pass. It’s just a physical, tough-minded brand of basketball with their culture, with Coach Spo’s teams.”

That’s not to say Vogel is an inferior coach, however. He’s proved during this run that he can make game-by-game and in-game adjustments. He went small against the Rockets with Morris at the four and swapped McGee for Howard against the Nuggets which paid extreme dividends. Vogel’s faith in “Playoff Rondo” is also a big part of why the Lakers have been so dominant this postseason. He trusted the veteran point guard when much of LakerNation, including myself, didn’t.

Experience advantage: Lakers

Series prediction: Lakers in 6 – Miami is a really good, tough-minded and collective team. They will push LAL night in and night out, but they don’t have enough talent and experience to beat a Lakers team led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the two best players in this series.

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About Sandeep Chandok

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