It has been a long year, but 2020 finally let up when it gave us this NBA Finals matchup.
It is a series between two flamboyant cities in Miami and Los Angeles, with two storied franchises in the Lakers and Heat. It is a series loaded with so many narratives and storylines that it might as well be the latest episode of “Days of Our Lives.”
Can LeBron James snatch a title from under the nose of Pat Riley and his vaunted “Heat culture”? Does Riley finally get revenge against James for betraying him and destroying what could have been a decade-long dynasty in Miami? Will Kyle Kuzma take a title from Tyler Herro, the rookie sensation who is currently dating his ex-girlfriend, Instagram model Katya Elise Henry?
Oh, and there’s the actual matchup on the floor as well.
Los Angeles took both games in the regular-season series, the last one coming in December. The Lakers are 2-0 straight up but 1-1 against the spread in the series, failing to cover in a win in South Beach in which Jimmy Butler’s game-tying shot was not true at the buzzer.
The Lakers posted a + 9.3 net rating in the two games against the Heat, but Miami is a different team now with two new faces. In February the Heat acquired veteran wing Andre Iguodala in a trade with Memphis, and along with him came journeyman Jae Crowder. The main prize of the deal was Iguodala, but Crowder has been an important piece to this run. He shot 43.2% from beyond the arc against Milwaukee and gives the Heat a tertiary scoring option.
No one matchup will swing this in one team’s direction, but many fascinating factors will impact this series.
A massive reason Miami will be playing basketball into October was the zone defense it ran against Boston. Erik Spoelstra used a zone during the regular season more than any coach in the league, and bettors should be ready for it again. Los Angeles is shooting 35.5% from deep this postseason and has been known to struggle from time to time with any form of a jump shot. The zone defense will be a perfect way to disjoint the Lakers’ offensive flow.
However, Los Angeles has its own weapon: size.
The Lakers regularly roll out a front-court lineup of James, Anthony Davis and either Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee at center. What does Miami have to match that? Bam Adebayo is a quality center, but Spoelstra tends to play Butler and Crowder with him in the front court. That is quite the size disadvantage for the Heat, so should bettors expect to see more Meyers Leonard, who did not play a single minute in the Eastern Conference finals?
Miami lacks the size but not the shooting prowess, and that could be the difference in a series the market believes will be much tighter than originally thought. The first series price posted had the Lakers at -450, but the market has since moved that to -325 on Los Angeles.
It is a move I agree with. Miami is a well-coached team that goes seven or eight deep. The Heat have had a different leading scorer for each round of the postseason, and every team that has done that in the past has gone on to win the NBA Finals.
Look for that to continue.
Pick: Miami to win NBA Finals (+ 270)