The Los Angeles Lakers are back in the NBA Finals. (I wish I could say this with a straight face) All is finally right with the world.
They will be trying to win their 17th NBA championship (would be tied for the record with the Boston Celtics) against Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Erik Spoelstra, and the rest of the Miami Heat organization. To check out our full series preview, click here.
For this Game 1 preview, I will be listing some things that I’ll be looking for early on in the game that may give some indications on what will transpire throughout the series.
How the Lakers respond to the Heat’s zone
As noted in our series preview, the Miami Heat use a zone defense that is very effective in stopping their opponents. They used it many times throughout the regular season and may have only increased its use in the postseason. It was a huge catalyst for their Eastern Conference Finals victory over the Boston Celtics, as the Heat are able to still contest shots while being pests in opponents’ passing lanes with their many tall and lengthy wings.
Zones are made to force opposing offenses into ill-advised jump shots, something that the Lakers do not want to fall into. If the zone is used against them early on, we will most likely see a handful of Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope threes as LeBron James and Anthony Davis will struggle to penetrate. If those threes aren’t falling, then you might see an early large deficit for the Lakers.
Even if those two are hitting their threes, the key to beating the zone will be LeBron getting into the middle of it — specifically into the paint — following that up with some of his elite passing to find an open cutter approaching the middle of the zone or even a wide-open three-point shooter. The cutting abilities of Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma will be key for this.
The matchups of superstars
This series might prove to have the best 1-on-1 defense that LeBron James and Anthony Davis have faced all playoffs. Those two defenders that will be matched up on the two often are Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, respectively.
Adebayo figures to be on Davis more often than Butler on LeBron, as he is one of the best up-and-coming post defenders in the entire NBA — earning an NBA second-team All-Defense honor this year. He will have the tough assignment on Davis for nearly all of the series and will have to figure out how to stop Davis and his seemingly endless ways of scoring.
As said previously, Butler will probably not be matched up 1-on-1 on LeBron often due to the Heat’s propensity to go to the zone while switching a good amount when playing man. Still, you never know how aggressive Jimmy Butler may end up being, so it will be key to watch how often Butler is defending LeBron. Butler has always been an above-average defender, and will definitely be defending LeBron many times late in games.
Which role players will cement NBA Finals legacies?
This might be my favorite aspect to watch tonight. The Lakers have had many elite NBA Finals performances from role players. In the Lakers back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, the likes of Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, and Shannon Brown come to mind.
The Lakers and Heat both have many players who may go from being relatively unknown to famous in these Finals with one insane performance.
One of the most obvious players to predict for this would be the Heat’s Tyler Herro. The 20-year-old rookie out of Kentucky has really taken his game to another level in these playoffs, even scoring 37 points off the bench in the Heat’s Game 4 ECF victory over the Celtics. Lakers fans would probably want a statement game from their own white bench player, as Alex Caruso is a fan favorite and can really put up some scoring if his three-pointer is falling. Don’t be surprised if Kyle Kuzma, Duncan Robinson, Rajon Rondo, Jae Crowder, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, or someone else ends up with a random 20+ point performance to propel their team from the bench. It happens time-and-time again in the NBA Finals.
Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. PST. Let’s go!