After one of the more remarkable playoff runs in recent memory, the Miami Heat have reached the finals, where Lebron and the mighty Lakers await them. While taking the Heat to win this series has become a sexy underdog pick, I really don’t see it happening. For me, the Heat’s biggest weakness is LA’s exact strength: lack of size on the interior.
Miami was able to use their zone to completely take the Celtics out of their game in the conference finals, but I don’t see that working against the Lakers for two reasons. First, Anthony Davis. The easiest way to beat a zone is by having your big flash towards the middle and be ready to either knock down a 14-footer or find open guys in the gaps of the zone and kick it to them. Davis is totally equipped to do either of those, and I think aside from Nikola Jokić, is the best player in the league to do the thing I just described. Second, while the Lakers are not a great perimeter shooting team, they’re a smarter team than the Celtics and won’t get flustered by the zone, especially since they’ll be expecting it. Lebron and Rondo are excellent at probing through defenses, taking their time, and finding cutters—exactly what you need to beat a zone. The Lakers as a team are full of great cutters who are very active off-ball, and that should serve them well here.
So if the zone won’t work especially well against the Lakers and Miami is forced to revert to man, aside from Bam, who the hell guards AD? The Heat have gone small essentially for the entire playoffs, and Bam is the only big who plays meaningful minutes. That’s served them well on the perimeter, as they’re super switchable and everyone out there plays hard and tough, but there is no one in the rotation beyond Bam who has the size to check Davis. The Lakers, by contrast, have Davis, Dwight Howard, Lebron, and Javale to throw at Bam and show him different looks. The combination of the offensive load Miami need Bam to carry, along with the pressing need for him to avoid fouls on the other end while guarding one of the 7 best players in the league is a lot for a third-year player to take on. For Miami to win this series, I think Bam has to essentially be the best player on the floor on both ends. He’s a terrific young player, but that’s asking too much from him.
Miami does shoot the ball the better than Lakers, and by a wide margin. But if there is a team in the league cut out to defend against the perimeter barrage Miami brings, it’s LA. They are an elite defensive team, both in terms of perimeter defending personnel (Caruso, KCP, Danny Green, Lebron), but also team defense, playing passing lanes, and rotation. AD and Dwight are cut out to bang bodies with Bam and track him on screen and rolls, and I also really like the matchup of Lebron taking on Jimmy in crunch time for the Lakers. Lastly, it was only a matter of time before Jae Crowder regressed back to his averages and became a pedestrian 3-point shooter after going berserk against Milwaukee, and that happened against the Celtics, where he shot 12/47 from deep for the series.
Lastly, much has been made (deservingly so) of Miami’s depth and “greater than the sum of their parts” mentality. While this is certainly valuable, it’s not as valuable as legitimate superstar power at the top. Teams typically run with 7 or 8 man rotations in the finals, and while having reliable contributors off the bench is obviously beneficial, that’s the type of factor that swings a close series, not outweighs a severe talent gap. By my count, in the last 10 years, there have been two finals won by the team who did not have the best performer in the series (2015 Warriors, and 2014 Spurs), and in one of those instances (2015), the talent disparity between teams from top to bottom was enormous. In the NBA, the team with the clear two best players on the floor wins with infrequent exception. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are terrific basketball players, but they are also unequivocally a far cry from Lebron James and Anthony Davis. In the finals, you need legitimate superstars who can get you crunch time buckets no questions asked. I think the toughness and coaching can only get Miami so far when facing a team with two of those stars. This won’t be a cakewalk for the Lakers, for Miami is simply too tough and well coached to ever roll over. But I also think this will be a short series, defined by the stratospheric talent of LA’s two megastars. Lakers in 5.