A Speculation from the Sidelines: History and High Hopes About the NBA Playoffs in a COVID World


South Florida Sun Sentinel

The alpha-dog mentality of both Lebron James (right) and Jimmy Butler (left) should make their matchup all the more exciting to watch.

Christian Dahms, Reporting Journalist

Two months ago, the NBA restarted its 2019-20 season back in the bubble in Orlando. Since then, the landscape of the NBA has changed quite dramatically. There were many memorable moments over the course of the season, such as the rise of “bubble god” Pacers forward T.J. Warren, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic’s game winner against the Clippers, the Nuggets coming back from a 3-1 series deficit twice (against the Jazz in the first round and the Clippers in the semi finals), Lakers star Anthony Davis’s buzzer beater against the Nuggets that evoked memories of another Laker legend, Kobe Bryant. It’s safe to say that there has never been a dull moment in the NBA bubble, but now, the time has come to crown a new champion in the league. Representing the Western Conference in the Finals will be the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that many people favored to get here. And representing the Eastern Conference will be the Miami Heat, a team that, despite being the 5th seed, has looked like a contender throughout the playoffs.

So how did we get here?

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers came into the 2019-20 season boasting what is most likely the best duo in the league in Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Although the team has shown to be susceptible to drama (just look at what the AD trade rumors did to the chemistry of the Lakers last year), it’s been all business in the bubble for this team. Lebron has been playing out of his mind this season, finishing second in MVP voting (much to his chagrin), while providing the playmaking and scoring that has helped to catapult the Lakers to the top seed in the West. Anthony Davis has been no slouch either, as his dominance on both sides of the floor has provided the perfect compliment to Lebron’s game. Although the supporting cast might cause some people to raise some eyebrows, there’s no doubt that the rest of the team has great chemistry. Players like swingman Kyle Kuzma and point guard Rajon Rondo have come up huge when the team has needed them. Former 3-time DPOY Dwight Howard has had a big revival in his second go-round in the purple and gold, protecting the paint and cleaning the glass when AD isn’t on the floor. And who can forget about the fan favorite guard Alex Caruso, as the energy he brings with his high-flying jams can light up the arena, even if there aren’t any fans. Although their postseason started off shaky with a loss to the 8th seeded Portland Trail Blazers, they breezed through the rest of the West without many issues, beating the Blazers, Rockets, and Nuggets each in 5 games en route to the Finals. One of the main reasons for their success has been their potent offensive attack, as the Lakers during the postseason have led the league in assists (25.9 per game), field goal percentage (49.8%), and points in the paint per game (49.6). Lebron and AD have also been absolutely dominant, as both are averaging more than 26 points and 9 rebounds per game. With the team coming back to the Finals for the first time in a decade, the Lakers will certainly be determined to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to Staples Center.

Miami Heat: For the first time since 1999 (the 8th-seeded New York Knicks), the NBA Finals will have a new Cinderella story. But you wouldn’t know that if you saw the way that the Miami Heat have been playing over the course of the bubble. Last summer, the Heat quietly began building a contender when they executed a sign and trade to bring a disgruntled Jimmy Butler into the fold. Although Butler is one of the more misunderstood players in the league, and has had tumultuous affairs with the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Philadelphia 76ers, the Miami Heat culture made him feel right at home. Besides Jimmy, second-year center Bam Adebayo has grown into one of the most versatile big men in the league, as his ability to handle the ball and play lockdown defense was enough to earn him his first All-Star appearance back in February. Leading the backcourt is veteran point guard Goran Dragic, who has had a tremendous postseason while leading the Heat in points per game with 20.9. The Heat also have struck gold when it comes to young talent, such as lottery pick Tyler Herro (who recently scored a career high of 37 points against the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals), undrafted sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, and Rookie of the Year nominee Kendrick Nunn. Out of the gate, the Heat were firing on all cylinders, sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round. However, many people thought that once they ran into the Giannis Antetokoumpo-led Milwaukee Bucks, their luck would run out. However, the opposite happened, as head coach Erik Spolestra was able to neutralize the Bucks’ MVP with a 2-3 zone that helped the Heat shock Milwaukee by winning the series in 5 games. Against the Celtics in the conference finals, it was a bit more of a chess match between the two teams, as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both had an excellent series against the Heat. But the Heat prevailed, taking down Boston in a hard-fought 6 game series with Bam Adebayo putting on a show to help advance the Heat to their first NBA finals since 2014.

While the Lakers might be the favorite in this matchup, the Heat have proven that they can hang with some of the most dangerous teams in the league. For both teams, their two best players matchup well to one another, as Jimmy’s prowess on the perimeter has potential to make life difficult for Lebron, and Bam and AD should have many great battles in the paint. For the Lakers, their X-factor is going to be their bench. When their stars are off the floor, will they be able to hold it down against players like Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson? As for the Heat, their X-factor will be Goran Dragic. If Jimmy or Bam can’t get it going against Lebron and Anthony Davis, will the crafty Slovenian be able to maintain the way he’s been performing this postseason? Despite all of these questions, there is one man who might have more riding on this series than anyone else, that man being none other than Lebron James. A championship victory could be enough to cement his status as the greatest to ever play the game, and a loss will only perpetuate the eternal comparisons to Michael Jordan. As for the Heat, a championship could be the start to a potential dynasty, as they will still have tons of young talent and the cap space to woo a potential superstar to South Beach this offseason (Hello, Giannis).

So what do I think will happen? Although Lebron and Anthony Davis have been fantastic over the duration of the season, I have much more confidence in the Heat’s supporting cast than the Lakers, which I believe will be the biggest difference maker throughout the whole series. As for Goran Dragic, I think that he will continue to score at the elite rate he has been throughout the postseason, as I don’t think that there is really one man on the Lakers that can really contain him (aside from possibly Rajon Rondo?). Whatever the result might be…

This is going to be fun.

Series Prediction: Heat in 6

Finals MVP: Goran Dragic