Heading into tonight's Game 1 of the NBA Finals we have the Lakers with a 12-3 record and the Heat with a 12-3 record. The 2nd best offense in the playoffs (LA) vs the 4th. The 5th best defense (LA) vs the 7th and the best net rating (LA) vs the 3rd best. While their paths to the Finals may have been different, there is no denying that these are two deserving teams. Both have undeniable strengths as well as a series of questions that will ultimately decide how this shakes out. The Lakers enter this series as -340 favorites if you're into that sort of thing, but as Jimmy Butler said yesterday he doesn't consider the Heat underdogs.
So let's get you ready for everything you can expect not only tonight, but some pretty important factors that will show up during this entire series.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-0) vs Miami Heat (0-0) 9:00pm ET
First things first. What the hell is that court design? I know there's probably some sponsorship deal or whatever and that's why it looks that way but dear lord is that awful. The video board shit isn't enough, this is the NBA Finals! Just go with the giant Larry O'Brien trophy graphic in the middle, have that center logo where the Walt Disney World logo is like the old NBA Finals logo used to be and call it a day.
But now to the actual teams. Let's start with the Lakers because they're technically the favorites. The biggest question in my mind when it comes to the Lakers in this series is how successful will they be at breaking the Heat zone. It's been solid for MIA all season, it just won them the ECF, but let me be very clear here. The Lakers are not the Celtics when it comes to breaking this zone. Why? Well it starts with their two best players. What the Celts showed is that when you attack this zone by driving from the wing, you can break it pretty easily. You know what isn't going to happen? LeBron being hesitant and refusing to drive the zone like the Celts so often were. He's going to put his head down and attack relentlessly. If he catches the ball on the wing in the zone, none of the perimeter defenders are going to prevent him from getting to the rim. We already saw that earlier this season when these two teams played.
Then there's the whole Anthony Davis thing. Putting him at the FT line is the easiest solution, and here's why that will be important. Do you want to hear something terrifying? Anthony Davis is shooting 50.6% on midrange jumpers this postseason. That went up to 51.6% on 6.2 FGA in the WCF. It's not just about getting him the ball at the FT line and hoping he finishes strong at the rim. The Lakers have a legit weapon who can simply catch and turn and knock down that shot with confidence. That's going to force Bam to play a little higher up which will help the Lakers attack from the baseline with good ball movement. If Davis catches it in the paint, his FG% jumps to 56%. It's the ultimate pick your poison and why Lakers fans should feel confident when it comes to busting this zone.
As with every Lakers series there will always be a question about their shooting, especially their secondary scorers. Well I think we have to tell the truth here a little bit. We all get our jokes off about how the Lakers have no shooting, I certainly have, but here's the thing. Markieff Morris is shooting 43.6% from three. KCP is shooting 42.1% on 5.1 3PA. Shit, even Rondo is shooting 44.8% from three in these playoffs. Even with his struggles, Danny Green is shooting 36.4%. The only one who has really struggled has been Kuzma, who is coming in at 31%.
If you look at the areas where these shooters are taking their threes from these entire playoffs, there's even more reason for optimism. What did we see in the BOS series? They were able to feast on corner threes. Well, here are the splits for how the Lakers shooters have performed from the corners this postseason
Morris: 66% from left corner / 11% right corner
KCP: 58.8% left corner / 38% right corner
Green: 57% left corner / 34.5% right corner
Kuzma: 40% left corner / 25% right corner
So this narrative that the Lakers don't have shooting hasn't really been true for this entire playoff run. In a series where they are going to have to find a way to match the Heat's three point production, that's important to consider.
On the Heat side, they will have some decisions to make when it comes to how they switch up their defense. They saw the Celtics offense really find a rhythm when they went man to man, and I'm not sure they have the defenders to do that against the Lakers. I know Heat fans are encouraged about throwing Jae Crowder against LeBron, but here's the thing. I've witnessed that movie before. Crowder doesn't have the lateral quickness to contain LeBron. It sounds good in theory, but the reality is very different. Iguodala and Butler will help, but when LeBron gets aggressive there is not a defender in the bubble that can prevent him from getting to where he wants to go.
They also have to remember not to play Olynyk while LeBron is on the floor. Here's why
LeBron is going to hunt that matchup out every single time and score every single time. Again, I've lived it. It's just the reality of the situation.
They are also going to have to find way to free Dragic up. He's going to have to deal with Alex Caruso/Rondo who are two legit on ball defenders. Dragic was able to find success because the Heat were able to find him switches against Daniel Theis to avoid Smart. Well, that's not going to really be the same thing if the Lakers put AD at the 5. They are going to have to find other ways to free him up and find the mismatch. In situations where the Lakers put someone like Dwight on Bam, he's going to have to stretch the floor to the midrange. He is shooting 43.8% from midrange these playoffs, but shot just 30.8% in the ECF. If you saw his Game 6 performance, you saw what a valuable weapon it is if he can make that shot consistently. It probably won't be there against Davis, but with Dwight on the floor we should see Bam come further out and initiate the offense from the circle/FT line.
Their goal should be to keep this shit close until clutch time. You would think that with LeBron/AD that the Lakers would be money in the clutch, but the Lakers as a team have just a 89.5 Ortg. The Heat? The best in the playoffs at 135. Their +42.5 net rating in the clutch is over 10x higher than the Lakers. In the Conference Finals, it wasn't all that better for LA. They posted a 88.5 Ortg against the Nuggets. The Heat bumped theirs up to 150 with a +64.7 net rating. Now you always have to be concerned about LeBron getting calls, but this Heat team is built to succeed in these high pressure moments. While their offense struggles, the one thing the Lakers do thrive in is on the defensive end. They had a 69.6 Drtg in clutch time minutes in the WCF. Guys like Herro/Bam/Jimmy/Robinson are going to have to prove they can make shots when it matters most against a team that tightens the screws on that end in big moments.
It's important not to overreact no matter what we see tonight. If the Lakers lose Game 1, it's nothing we haven't seen before. If the Heat lose Game 1 that does not mean the series is over. I just hope that things are called evenly, there isn't some bullshit 24 FTA quarter or something and the officials let the players decide how this shakes out. There is no Scott Foster/Tony Brothers tonight, so at least that's a relief.