We’re just over three months late, but it’s finally time for the 2020 NBA Finals. Last year, I previewed the Warriors versus Raptors matchup and had a lot of fun, so let’s run it back this year with a new series. The Celtics were eliminated on Sunday night, cementing a Heat-Lakers Finals. Two of the biggest markets in the NBA face off in an unprecedented bubble situation. In this article, I’ll give you the rundown of how each team got to this point and then I’ll give my prediction on how this series will go. We’ll start with the Heat.
Featured Image Credits: Sports Illustrated, A Sea of Blue, The New York Times, CGTN
Early in the 2010s, the Heat had a lot of success with their big three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh with Erik Spoelstra as coach. Spoelstra is the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA, so this won’t be focused on the coaching aspect of the Heat since that has remained the same for so long. Anyway, in four years, they secured two titles and made the Finals in the other two years. However, this success was not enough for James to stay, especially after the Spurs beat the Heat 4-1 in the 2014 Finals. On July 11, 2014, LeBron returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that drafted him in 2003. The Heat responded by adding Luol Deng, Goran Dragić, and Hassan Whiteside, but they still finished just 37-45 and missed the playoffs. The 2014-15 season marked the beginning of the end for Chris Bosh, as he began to deal with blood clots.
The Heat rebounded big time with a 48-34 record in 2015-16, but again, they lost Chris Bosh in the middle of the regular season. However, DWade played great at age 34, and Dragić and Whiteside solidified themselves as starters. Miami made it past the Hornets in the first round, but fell to Kyle Lowry and the Raptors in the divisional. Then, the unexpected took place, as DWade signed with the Chicago Bulls, leaving the Heat in a tough position. With Wade gone, Whiteside and Dragić became the main options for Spoelstra’s squad. They led the Heat to a 41-41 record, barely missing the playoffs.
The Heat continued down their mediocre path the next two seasons, making the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, but missing out in the 2018-19 season. The most notable news was that Dwayne Wade rejoined Miami in 2018 via trade. He finished his career with the Heat and retired in 2019. It became clear that the Heat had to make some major changes, as they had not been relevant since LeBron departed in 2014.
Finally, the Heat made a big splash. Last summer, they acquired Jimmy Butler in a four-team trade that also sent Hassan Whiteside to the Blazers. Going into this season, things looked bright for the Heat. Jimmy Butler earned an all-star berth, but what wasn’t expected was 2017 first-rounder Bam Adebayo’s rise to being an all-star as well. Youngsters Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Kendrick Nunn surrounded Miami’s two stars, and they also traded for Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder in the middle of the season. They finished with the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Nobody expected them to dominate like they have, as they swept the Pacers, crushed the Bucks 4-1, and took out the Celtics 4-2. It took them only six years to make it back to the NBA Finals, a remarkable feat for Erik Spoelstra and President Pat Riley. This Heat journey began with the departure of LeBron James, so now we transition to the team he eventually joined, the L.A. Lakers.
From 2013-2017, the Lakers were absolute garbage. There’s no other way to say it. They stunk every season, and during that span, they had three head coaches. Mike D’Antoni coached the Lakers for two seasons, going 27-55 in the 2013-14 season. They then went to Byron Scott, who went 38-126 in his two season tenure with the Lakers. Kobe Bryant was truly the only bright spot during Scott’s time in L.A., but Kobe retired after the 2015-16 season.
With a new coach, Luke Walton, and a bunch of youngsters, the Lakers seemed to have a bright future. They had the last two #2 overall picks, PG D’Angelo Russell and SF Brandon Ingram. Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams headlined the bench, but they still couldn’t find any type of success. They earned the #2 overall pick again and selected PG Lonzo Ball, therefore displacing D’Angelo Russell. They traded DLo to the Nets, where he became an all-star. So, still without a true star, Luke Walton led this group of young prospects and mediocre veterans to a 35-47 record. Rookie Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram broke out and Lonzo put up good all-around numbers, but they still lacked a true leader.
That all changed in an instant when, in 2018, LeBron James joined the Lakers. James would put up monster numbers for the Lakers in the 2018-19 season, but the rest of the team looked off. They finished 37-45, a tough way for LeBron to start off his Lakers journey. Kuzma and Ingram continued to play well, but Lonzo took a step back because LeBron became the primary ball handler. Like the Heat, they needed to make some moves.
Then, L.A. pulled off a super-deal for Pelicans’ big man Anthony Davis. They sent Ingram, Lonzo, Josh Hart, and three first-rounders to New Orleans, giving LeBron a superstar to pair with. The result was a 52-19 record, finishing first in the Western Conference. AD and Bron were dominant, while JaVale McGee, Danny Green, and Kyle Kuzma rounded out the core of the squad. They also fired Luke Walton and hired Frank Vogel to lead the team.
That leaves us in the present; the 2020 NBA Finals. The Miami Heat are squaring off with the Los Angeles Lakers in a series that’s bound to be tight. The Lakers are a top-heavy team, with their star duo, but not a ton of depth. The Heat are the opposite with a rotation that includes Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Goran Dragić. Below are the rotations for each team.
The regular season series went to the Lakers 2-0. LeBron and AD did very well in both games. However, the last time they played was in December of 2019. Miami’s rotation has vastly changed since then. Despite this fact, the two marquee matchups should stay the same; LeBron versus Butler and AD versus Adebayo. The Lakers may have the advantage there, but I’ll take the rest of this Heat team over the rest of this Laker team any day. In other words, the Lakers have the best duo in the NBA, while the Heat have the deepest squad. It’ll be interesting to see which model prevails in the Finals.
Let’s get to my prediction. The Heat are very well equipped to defend LeBron. Erik Spoelstra coached him for four years, so he knows the drill. They also have an elite, gritty defender in Jimmy Butler. As for the other marquee matchup (AD versus Adebayo), Adebayo is also an elite defender who will put up a fight against Anthony Davis. So, the key to the Lakers winning this series will be the success of Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Those three have to get buckets. For the Heat, the key is to do some scoring of their own. I believe their defense will be stellar, so if Tyler Herro can keep up his ECF production, Miami will be in good shape.
Despite the depth and defense that the Heat possess, I can’t bring myself to bet against the Lakers. I’ve got the Lakers in seven because I believe in LeBron. I know LeBron has heard ALL of the criticisms of his 3-6 NBA Finals record, and I also know that’ll motivate him. Another motivating factor is Kobe Bryant. How fitting would it be if the Lakers won the NBA Finals in the same year the world lost Kobe? Also, don’t forget that LeBron played for the Heat, making it even more personal for him. For those three reasons, I think LeBron will lead the Lakers to the promised land.
Whatever happens, I know this series is gonna be fun. Enjoy tonight!!