A series that feels six years in the making is bringing back memories of one that was three years earlier than that.
LeBron James left Miami in 2014 following four NBA Finals appearances and two championships but, for all his accomplishments in Heat threads, his one black mark came in the 2011 NBA Finals, when he and the top-heavy, highly-favoured Heat flopped against the more balanced, more connected Dallas Mavericks.
This NBA Finals matchup feels like that one, but this time the Heat are the Mavericks, with three different players (Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo) leading them in scoring in the first three rounds, and a blend of time-tested veterans (Dragic, Andre Iguodala) and young legs. And, since LeBron is LeBron, it’s his Los Angeles Lakers who are expected to win, even though he has only one All-Star with him (Anthony Davis) rather than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as he did in Miami.
James said Tuesday, in his media Zoom call, that the “better team has won every NBA Finals” he’s played in, and Twitter users immediately corrected him, citing 2011. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks were the better team during that NBA Finals, even if the Heat had three of the four most decorated stars.
Can these Heat be anything like those Mavericks?
Here’s what needs to happen:
1. Keep the ball moving: James mentioned that the two things the Heat do best are play hard and move without the ball. Those are the two things that the 2011 Dallas Mavericks and 2014 San Antonio Spurs did best too, and he lost both NBA Finals. Miami can’t let it stick. Jimmy Butler can be the pace-setter, as he promised Tuesday to be, but the Heat are at their best when he scores less and Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson and others are getting to spots and knocking shots down. If the Lakers have any weakness on D, it’s guarding the 3.
2. Give James nothing: Well, he’s going to get something, for sure. He’s too good. But no team in the NBA seems better suited for the defensive challenge than the Heat. Butler may guard him first, if the Lakers stay sized up, but Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala have been two of the tougher defenders on James through the years, with Iguodala even winning a 2015 NBA Finals MVP for his work. Miami can 1. Finals MVP for his work. Miami can also use Bam Adebayo, Solomon Hill and Derrick Jones Jr on James for stretches. No opposing coach knows James quite like Erik Spoelstra, so expect him to mix the looks – including some zone – and try to make him an outside shooter, as the Spurs did.
3. Don’t overadjust: With that said, Spoelstra needs to stay with what worked for the Heat in the playoffs. He shortened the rotation, and went single big with Adebayo and, while it would be nice for Kelly Olynyk to contribute, Miami might be better off if Frank Vogel plays a center with Anthony Davis, instead of using Davis there and adding a shooter.
The Better Bet: Los Angeles by 6 in Game 1. The Lakers are a little more rested, and it may take some time for Spoelstra to unlock the code, but if the Heat do the three things above, it will be a long series.
-- Analysis by Juicy J