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SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Losing the series opener in the NBA Finals is nothing new to the Miami Heat. The Los Angeles Lakers lived up to expectations and blasted Miami, 116-98, in Game 1 of the Last Dance at the Orlando bubble yesterday morning (Manila time). There was never any doubt that the Lakers would use their advantage in size and strength to overpower the Heat. Miami just couldn’t neutralize LA’s physicality and athleticism.

The Lakers outrebounded Miami by 18 and were 25-of-27 from the line compared to the Heat’s 11-of-14. The free throw numbers indicate the Heat’s inability to contain without fouling and the Lakers’ relentlessness. LeBron James was dominant as usual with a near triple double of 25 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in 36 minutes. He was virtually unstoppable attacking the basket, making bully ball an art form. Miami tried to zone and turn it into a tactical battle but the Lakers ran roughshod over anything coach Erik Spoelstra put up as road blocks. LA’s biggest lead was 32.

Miami center Bam Adebayo went up against physically-imposing defenders like Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis. He played only 21 minutes in Game 1, leaving in the third period after colliding with Howard and hurting his left shoulder. That’s how it is when you challenge a more than able-bodied defender and you’re not as strong. You get banged up and pay the price. Another Miami player Goran Dragic went out with a foot injury in the second quarter. If it’s a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, Dragic is gone for the rest of the Finals. Dragic played only 14:50 minutes and scored six points, a far cry from his pre-Finals playoff averages of 34.6 minutes and 20.9 points. Before the Finals, six Heat players averaged in twin digit points in the playoffs. In Game 1, only two Heat starters scored in double figures.

Despite the blowout loss, Miami isn’t giving up the fight this early. The Heat overcame adversity to win championships in 2006 with coach Pat Riley and in 2012 and 2013 with Spo. In those three title runs, Miami lost every Game 1. In 2006, it was even worse because the Heat trailed 0-2 before trouncing Dallas in six. But the circumstances are different now. Miami isn’t a match for LA in terms of physicality and athleticism. Whatever advantage Miami had in disposing of Milwaukee and Boston in the previous series isn’t available against the Lakers. Miami’s zone is fragile in the face of LA’s outside shooting, power penetrations and kick-outs. Injuries to key players can only make life more difficult for Spo.

In NBA history, 71.2 percent of teams that won Game 1 went on to clinch so that’s a stat to enjoy if you’re a Lakers fan. LeBron is 35 and in his 17th season but there’s still a lot of gas in his tank. He was a King without a throne last season when the Lakers didn’t even make the playoffs. Now, he’s out to reclaim what rightfully belongs to him. LeBron was a man among boys in Game 1 and his presence made his teammates ever more potent, including Davis. If Miami doesn’t find an antidote for LeBron and isn’t able to stamp its style of play, the Heat will be lucky to steal even one game in the Finals.

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