After the death of an icon, a global pandemic and months of uncertainty, the dust has finally settled and the NBA Finals will kick off with an unlikely pair of competitors: the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers.
I spent the entire season singing the Temecula Clippers’ praises all while turning a blind eye on their inconsistent lineups, noticeable chemistry issues and troubling lack of intensity, because on paper—with five different players averaging at least 16 points per game this season—they looked like one of the coldest lineups ever assembled.
Boy, was I fucking wrong.
The Lakers, however, have been the real deal from the jump. After finishing the season 52-19, they made quick work of the Trail Blazers, Rockets and Nuggets, dismantling each team in a mere 5 games with smothering defense and a height advantage that at times seemed almost unfair. The Lakers are also killing their competition with a few underlying themes at play: perennial underachiever Anthony Davis is chasing his first ring, players like Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard are chasing redemption, the entire organization is more motivated than ever to win a championship after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant in January, and LeBron is looking to further solidify his standing as one of the greatest to ever do it—and a fourth ring would greatly enhance his cause.
The Heat, meanwhile, has no business being in the Finals—if you let early playoff predictions tell it. Entering the playoffs as a “difficult out,” Miami went on to whoop the Pacers’, the Bucks’, and the Celtics’ asses in the first three rounds and only lost three times along the way. In doing so, they’ve become the first No. 5 seed in NBA history to make the NBA Finals.
“The main key, and it’s been like this for a very long time, if you want to win, you’re going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team,” Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler told reporters. “At the end of the day, that’s what it normally comes down to, and that’s what we got to focus in on. Honestly, we can’t just focus in on him because he has so many really good players around him. But you’re going to get the same test over and over again until you pass it. That test is LeBron James.”
Prior to last season, King James made eight consecutive Finals appearances. But thanks, in part, to a nasty groin injury, as well as a flawed roster, LeBron didn’t even sniff the playoffs in 2019. But a year later, armed with a revamped roster that includes Davis as well as a completely overhauled coaching staff, LeBron finds himself back where he belongs on the NBA’s biggest stage—and the Heat is ready and waiting for that smoke.
Fielding a dangerous roster brimming with outcasts, rejects and other basketball vagabonds, Miami has the versatility and intensity that could derail the Lakers’ plans for a 17th NBA championship. Goran Dragic has yet to be extinguished in the playoffs, Tyler Herro has all the makings of an emerging star, Bam Adebayo is playing out of his mind, Jimmy Butler has been a consistent threat on both ends of the court and seasoned vet Andre Iguodala is doing exactly what he was brought in to do: make huge plays in the playoffs.
And considering LeBron left the Heat for dead when he bounced as a free agent in 2014, I’m sure Heat president Pat Riley would love nothing more than to obliterate the Lakers in the Finals.
Let us hope and pray the Heat are able to do so when the Finals kick off on Wednesday.