Physical vs tactical
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2020 - 12:00am

The NBA Finals begin in the Lake Buena Vista bubble this morning (Manila time) and it’s the first time that two teams are battling for the trophy after missing the playoffs the previous year. The Los Angeles Lakers finished 10th with a 37-45 record in the Western Conference and the Miami Heat, also 10th with a 39-43 record in the Eastern Conference last season. But they’ve rebounded to emerge the last two teams standing in the bubble. L.A. and Miami tote identical 12-3 records in the playoffs, making their confrontation all the more intriguing.

This past regular season, L.A beat Miami twice, 95-80 and 113-110 but neither Andre Igoudala nor Jae Crowder suited up for the Heat. In the Lakers’ three-point win, Avery Bradley scored 10 points and he’ll be missed in the Finals, opting out of the bubble. In the playoffs, both teams are just about even statistically. The Lakers are averaging 113.9 points and giving up 106.5 while the Heat is hitting at a 112.2 clip and surrendering 107.2. Miami is shooting 82.1 percent from the line (averaging 22.7 connections) and 35.7 percent from distance (13.3 makes) compared to the Lakers’ 74.7 percent from the stripe (19.3 conversions) and 35.5 percent from deep (11.3 hits). L.A. has the edge in field goal percentage (49.8 to 42.9 percent), assists (25.9 to 25.1) and rebounds (43.7 to 42.9).

Six Heat players are averaging in double figure points compared to only LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma for the Lakers. James and A. D. are the only Lakers averaging at least 30 minutes while there are five in the Miami roster, indicating a more solid nucleus for the Heat and a more fluid rotation surrounding the two Laker superstars. There are eight Lakers who are at least 30 years old and only five for the Heat, including 40-year-old Udonis Haslem who hasn’t seen action in the playoffs. Seven Lakers have played in at least 10 seasons compared to only three with Miami. Experience is clearly on the Lakers side with LeBron making his 10th trip to the Finals. The downside is LeBron won only three titles in nine previous Finals. Igoudala is in his sixth straight Finals and coach Erik Spoelstra in his fifth overall in 12 years. Iggy was the 2015 Finals MVP when Golden State beat Cleveland whose star was LeBron. Lakers coach Frank Vogel has no Finals experience but LeBron will make up for it.

Spo won two NBA titles for Miami when LeBron was with the Heat. Now, they’re on opposite sides. Miami president Pat Riley coached the Lakers to four titles in seven Finals and played on the L.A. team that won in 1972. Riley’s mission is just like Spo’s – to bring the title back to Miami and bring down LeBron.

The Lakers will play physical against Miami and the Heat will be tactical. It will come down to a battle between brawn and brains. LeBron is a man among boys in the NBA and no one comes close to his level of physicality. With Dwight Howard at center, LeBron has the perfect tag team partner to play bully ball. Miami can’t match L.A.’s power so Spo has to outwit the Lakers in strategy. Spo will use different zone alignments for sure, 1-2-2, 2-3, 3-2 to shrink and pack the paint, making it a little difficult for the Lakers to control the interior offensively.

The Heat will capitalize on forwards Crowder and Jimmy Butler playing the top of a 2-3 zone to match up against Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell Pope but A. D. and LeBron will be tough to contain in the wings. A. D. will likely take on Bam Adebayo in the middle and he’ll be a nightmare for the Heat on both ends. LeBron was pissed that he got only a handful of first place votes in the MVP poll and is determined to show who’s boss in the Finals. The King is out to regain his throne and that’s bad news for Miami. The Lakers should clinch in five or six.

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