Commissioner Adam Silver might as well hand the Larry O’Brien trophy to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Purple and Gold are the prohibitive favorites to win it all when their best-of-seven NBA Finals series against the Miami Heat commence on Thursday in the Orlando bubble.
The Lakers are seeking their 17th NBA championship to tie their rivals the Boston Celtics for the most ‘ships in the Association. Another reason fueling their quest for the 2020 NBA championship is to win one for the late NBA great Kobe Bryant who tragically died last Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash.
As if that’s not enough motivation, Lakers superstar LeBron James is also seeking to become the first player in NBA history to win championships while leading three different teams. Of course, The King won his first two championships with Miami during the Big 3 era with BFF Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2012 and 2013.
He then infamously left South Beach (Wade was slipping and the supporting crew were long in the tooth) and returned to Cleveland after the Heat lost in the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. He finally gave long-suffering Cavaliers fans a championship when he rallied their version of the Big 3 (James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love) from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
After losing to a Kevin Durant souped-up Warriors team in 2017 and 2018, LeBron again packed up his bags this time for Tinseltown. His first year in the West Coast proved to be a wash as the Lakers failed to make the playoffs for the sixth straight year and James sustained the first major injury of his legendary career. The offseason saw LA finally acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for half of the roster and a boatload of picks.
The 2019-2020 season has been a Lakers renaissance with The King and The Brow leading the way. They finished the regular season (COVID-19 seeding games in the bubble included) with the league’s second-best record after the Milwaukee Bucks. In the first three rounds of the playoffs, the preeminent LA team (sorry Paper Clips) have amassed an 11-3 record after finishing off the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, and Denver Nuggets in similar 3-1 records.
In James and Davis, the Lakers clearly have two best players in the NBA Finals. They’re also expertly mentored by coach Frank Vogel, whose calling card has always been defense since his days with the Indiana Pacers. Vogel made a daring move in switching starting center JaVale McGee with former Lakers malcontent Dwight Howard late in the series against Denver. It worked as Howard made life miserable for Nikola Jokic.
The Lakers’ bench is also pretty solid with Rajon Rondo dialing his play up a notch in the playoffs (he’s not called Playoff Rondo for nothing) and Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, and of course fan favorite Alex Caruso back-stopping the superstars.
The Heat, meanwhile, is a rag-team team with only one verifiable superstar in Jimmy Butler. Before joining the Heat via sign and trade, Jimmy Buckets wore out his welcome in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia. It’s actually nothing short of a miracle that coach Erik Spoelstra’s team advanced to the NBA Finals. Just look at its lineup, the highest drafted player in the roster is 36-year-old Andre Iguodala (9th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2004). They also start Duncan Robinson, a former Division 3 player. Prior to this season, Bam Adebayo also had to share the center position with 7’2” Hassan Whiteside.
Miami were also so down on veteran Goran Dragic’s future with the team that Pat Riley actually traded him to the Dallas Mavericks to clear up cap space to sign Butler in the offseason. Luckily, for The Dragon, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban rescinded the trade, saying they thought they were getting Derrick Jones Jr. And when the season started, Dragic lost his starting job to undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn.
They finished with the fifth seed in the weaker Eastern Conference and then rode a hot streak into the playoffs, sweeping the Pacers in the first round before catching a break when Giannis Antetokounmpo got injured in the second round. With the back-to-back MVP sidelined, the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals against the talented but young Boston Celtics. They dispatched Danny Ainge’s team in six games, which could’ve been closer if not for a few late-game collapses by the Celts.
So, it’s a classic David vs. Goliath pairing in the NBA Finals. The Lakers have the history, the pedigree, and the marquee players to run over the Heat to take home the 2020 NBA championship. Miami, for all its shortcomings, have pure grit on their side. I always side with the underdogs and I won’t change even for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Kobe’s old team.