chris. herring (Chris Herring, Senior Athlete): Well, this NBA season, which has entered a bubble and is at the peak of an entire calendar year, officially begins its final round tonight. The Lakers-Heat is almost certainly not the game any of us thought we would win. But it’s full of storylines for a number of reasons – and one that feels like it can honestly go both ways, given how well Miami has played against higher-level competition all season.
What are you most interested in seeing when the finals begin tonight? What do you think is the biggest key to all this?
Dubin (Jared Dubin, FiveThirtyEight contributor): I’m a pretty big fool, so I’m most interested to see how the teams line up in defense. Does Bam Adebayo start with Anthony Davis, or are they trying to hide it for a while? Is Jay Crowder guarding Davis or LeBron James? And how the Lakers put LeBron, Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope against Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson / Tyler Hero. I can̵
chris.herring: The matches and Xs and Os are charming in this series, right? And even the things we’ll see in the beginning will probably start.
dre.waters (Andres Waters, FiveThirtyEight contributor): In terms of matches, I’m interested to see how the Heat are trying to slow down LeBron as well. They brought in guys like Crowder and Andre Iguodala specifically for a series like this … so how are they going to use them in defense?
I guess they’ll both spend most of their time defending LeBron.
Dubin: A big change in this series will be whether Heat decides to use LeBron’s Crowder or AD. Davis tends to do better against big boys, so it might make sense to have Crowder on him, but Heat probably doesn’t want Jimmy to spend all night dealing with LeBron.
chris.herring: Not that there is an immediate draw, but don’t forget that LeBron clip on the free throw line showing disappointment when he saw Kawhi Leonard come back into the game to keep it? Up to your point, however, it’s a really grueling task to keep someone of the caliber of LeBron or even Butler for an entire game. Expect to see different people with these responsibilities at night.
One thing that intrigued me strangely is how insulting recovery – something that has been highlighted in recent years – can matter in this series. The Lakers often play two traditional greats at once, and the Heat just push them out often. The zone defense that Miami plays is becoming a little more risky for this reason.
Dubin: The Celtics grabbed the offensive board of almost 30 percent of their gaps in the last series, much higher than either of Heat’s two previous opponents. The fact that Miami plays so many zones definitely contributed to that, and if they go into a tough zone against the Lakers, they can cause some problems there.
However, the whole point of the zone is to cut off access to paint, and this may be Heat’s best chance of winning the series. If they can turn it into a 3-point shooting competition, I feel it’s really good for them.
chris.herring: Very good point.
dre.waters: On the other hand, if Miami defeats the rebounding Lakers on the offensive line, they will definitely have a deep shot to make them pay. Butler, Crowder, Iguodala, Dragic, Robinson and Hero shoot over 34 percent of a 3-point range.
chris.herring: The Lakers’ shooting from the outside has never been their strong point, although this late Bron hot series was how they eventually picked up the Nuggets.
Dubin: KCP shooting in the mid-40s from deep during the playoffs, unlike his usual mid-30s, was quite large. It’s the same with Rajon Rondo, who shoots over 40 percent in almost three attempts to play.
chris.herring: It would be such a terrible time for both of them to drop to average.
Dubin: On the other hand, it would be a good time for Danny Green to move to the middle level.
chris.herring: Complicating factor in trying to make sense of this match: They were last played in December, almost 10 months ago.
Dubin: Kendrick Noon and Myers Leonard were still in the starting lineup! James Johnson defended LeBron in the first game! Quinn Cook was guarding Dragic!
Those were the good old days.
dre.waters: It feels like a long time ago. Much has changed for Miami since then.
chris.herring: In those two meetings, the heat was neck and neck at halftime. But each time the Lakers had a big third quarter, winning one by 10 and the other by 11.
Eric Spoelstra is a fantastic coach and if anything else, this run proved how great he is. But the Heat were a pretty bad team in the second half of the season, while the Lakers were relatively solid in that regard. Miami was eliminated in 18 high-NBA games in which it had a lead of at least 10 points.
I’m not sure if this is a trick or just changing the heat protects the middle of the game a lot, which can turn the tap on or off for the opponent. But it will be interesting to see if they can finish the job if and when they take the lead against Los Angeles.
Dubin: I wonder how many of them came before the break and how many came in the balloon. Feelings are not numbers, but it feels like they were the team that makes the playoffs, not the team that allows opponents to return to it.
chris.herring: It definitely feels like there is some truth in this, including in the Eastern Conference clinch. I chose Miami in this series – partly because of how well they played against what I think is better competition and partly not in terms of feeling.
dre.waters: In fact, I chose Miami. In terms of playing outside of their best players, they were much more consistent with me. And, as Chris said, it was against better competition – leading Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.
Dubin: I feel like we could say, “The Lakers have the two best players in the series, but no [opponent] there are the next five or six ”for each LA series that has participated so far. How much do we think this matters in a series where LeBron and AD are likely to play about 40 minutes a night anyway?
chris.herring: I’m at least a little worried about the Heat’s ability to produce solid attacks against this Laker defense. So much of this will depend on Adebayo’s appearance as a shooter and passerby. And much of that will depend on the Lakers’ defensive approach, which, as Jared mentioned, is likely to include Davis for long stretches.
Jared, you didn’t choose Miami, did you?
Dubin: No one has asked me to make a final choice unless it matters here. I think I would lean slightly towards the Lakers, but largely because I think choosing against LeBron is kind of stupid, and not because I think the Lakers are actually better.
Dubin: (I don’t call you fools if that sounds like it. I just feel stupid choosing No LeBron.)
It’s always hard to pick against LeBron, but someone had to do it, right?
chris.herring: Yes If nothing else, I think the burden of proof here should be on the people who fight against the team with the two best players.
Which is part of the reason I’m still completely shocked and confused that our projection model thinks as little about the Lakers as it has for some time. I listened to our podcast from the day Neil Payne gave the best explanation for him that he could. But I still couldn’t fully understand it.
But I think we’re there: If Miami wins, it’s largely because of their depth compared to the Lakers’ depth.
Dubin: Yes, I would say that if the Heat win, it will be due to their shooting with 3 points – but this shooting comes from depth.
chris.herring: It’s much easier to imagine that LeBron and AD go for 60 or 70 combined every night, and that’s potentially enough.
I was as close to placing Duncan Robinson as my choice for MVP.
dre.waters: Miami has six boys who could average double-digit points in this series. And that may really be enough.
chris.herring: I chose Miami for six. Maybe I chose Robinson, sms.
Dubin: I’m curious to see if Robinson has another bad game 1 and then hits multiple threes in the first minute of game 2. Again.
dre.waters: Chris and I are on the same page today … except for Robinson for MVP. LOL.
I have heat at six. But that’s mostly because I don’t know if they could lead LeBron in Game 7 or all.
Dubin: I feel weird to say, but I think the most important players in the series may be Crowder-Hero-Robinson and Green-CCP-Marquis Morris-Alex Caruso-Rondo. Just who shoots better than these groups.
chris.herring: We largely avoided the Pat Riley / LeBron story. I think people will hear enough about it elsewhere. But I want to at least ask this one: How much more will this final win to strengthen LeBron’s legacy?
He called it the most challenging season of his career, citing the passage of Kobe Bryant and the bubble, which I think we can all understand. I could also imagine that many critics would look at the criteria they had and say that the Lakers, through no fault of their own, did not have to play any of last season’s most dominant teams to win. the title.
Dubin: I don’t know that it’s their fault that the Clippers and Bucks didn’t take care of the business. If nothing else, doing it in a balloon is almost more impressive than doing it at home.
chris.herring: I said it was not their fault!
dre.waters: I think the better question, given the point that Chris has just pointed out, is how another loss from the finals will harm his legacy?
Dubin: Everyone knows that it is better for your heritage to lose before the finals than to lose in the finals.
But Jared is right …
Dubin: Seriously, the idea that victory or loss should change LeBron’s legacy doesn’t make much sense to me. Whatever happens, he will not wake a better or worse player the day after the final game of this series. Indeed, it will simply confirm people’s priorities.
Then I said the same thing again after the Cavs won their title and that was the opinion of the minority that day.
chris.herring: There is almost certainly a lot of truth in this. Although I think people raise more questions when you lose the final as a favorite.
Dubin: It reminds me of what happened after the latest Super Bowl, when people were finally willing to admit that Andy Reed was one of the best coaches ever, as if a game changed everything.
chris.herring: The strange thing here, as we all said, is that the Lakers have benefited, but we can all step back and say that something special has happened to Miami. You don’t roll the season the way they cook, like five seeds, unless you’re on a mission.
I just find it really hard to choose against them and all the things they throw at you, Xs and Os-wise, physical, etc.
Dubin: I can admit that until the credit is given to Pat Riley. No, I will never overcome it.
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