The NBA started its bubble nearly three months ago with 22 teams playing at Disney’s World of Sports in Orlando. Now, just two teams remain in the hunt for the championship — the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. LeBron James will appear in his 10th NBA finals with his third team. He’ll also battle against his old Heat squad, where he won back-to-back championships with Pat Riley’s protege, Erik Spoelstra.

LeBron James Miami Heat LA Lakers Jimmy Butler NBA Finals Game 1
Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat is defended by LeBron James of the LA Lakers. (Image: Lynee Sladky/AP)

The Lakers signed LeBron to a $154 million contract in 2018, and they went all-in on LBJ. The Buss family gambled that LeBron would restore the franchise to its winning ways. It only took two seasons before LeBron guided the gold and purple to a spot in the NBA Finals for a shot at their 17th championship.

The top-seeded Lakers won the Western Conference by knocking out the #8 Portland Trail Blazers, #4 Houston Rockets, and the #3 Denver Nuggets.

LA Lakers vs Miami Heat
  • Tip-off: 6pm PT
  • Point Spread: LAL -4.5
  • Total: 217 o/u
  • Moneyline: MIA +165 / LAL -185

The Miami Heat were the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they dominated their end of the bracket with a 12-3 record, both straight up and against the spread.

The Heat swept the #4 Indiana Pacers in the first round. In the east semifinals, Miami upset the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and made the Greek Freak look like a mere mortal in a five-game ass kicking. The Heat needed six games to knock out the #3 Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Oddsmakers pegged LeBron and the Lakers as the favorite, but don’t tell that to Jimmy Butler. He thinks his Heat squad should be the favorites heading into Game 1.

NBA Finals: Riley’s Lord of the Rings

The Heat signed Butler in the offseason to help whip a young team into contenders. Pat Riley’s vision has come to fruition in a much shorter time than he imagined. The Heat are just four wins away from taking the championship, which will happen against a team where Riley began his professional career as both a player and later, a head coach.

Riley, aptly dubbed the NBA’s Lord of the Rings, has eight NBA championships on his resume as a player, coach, and executive.

Riley won the NBA championship with the LA Lakers in 1972. He coached Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the Showtime Lakers to four NBA titles in the 1980s.

After a brief stint with the New York Knicks in the early 1990s, the Heat lured Riley to South Beach by giving the “Godfather” complete control of the team as a head coach and general manager (not to mention a piece of the actual franchise). Riley won his fifth NBA title as a coach with the Heat in 2006.

After he retired from coaching, he thrived as an executive and put together the dominant Heat squads of the early 2010s. Led by a hungry LeBron James and his coaching disciple, Spoelstra, Riley’s Heat won two more titles in 2012 and 2013.

Now, Riley’s latest quest is to bring a title back home to South Beach after LeBron jumped ship in 2014 for the sole purpose of bringing a much-overdue championship to the city of Cleveland.

Heat’s Zone Defense, Lakers Transition Offense

The Heat are undersized compared to the Lakers (Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard). The Heat utilized a 2-3 zone to help defend bigger teams and opted for man-to-man defense when teams went small ball on them.

“We’re going to have to play damn near perfect because they’re such a good team and they do so many things well,” said Butler. “Obviously, you know the star power that they have. We’re not going to back down.”

The Lakers are also one of the best transition teams in the NBA. They led all playoff teams with 23.3 transition points per game.

The Lakers are also quick to shoot with nearly one-fifth of their shots happening within the first five seconds on the shot clock. Mike D’Antoni, the originator of seven seconds or less philosophy, would be proud.

Miami’s Snipers

Goran Dragic leads the Heat with 20.9 points per game, and Butler is just behind him with 20.7 ppg. Bam Adebayo averaged 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in the postseason. Adebayo is coming off of one of his best games inside the bubble with 32 points and 14 rebounds to clinch the east finals.

Obviously, the Heat often live and die by the 3-pointer. Their sharpshooters — Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Dragic — will be challenged by the Lakers’ perimeter defenders. The Heat out-score opponents by 4.4 more points per game from 3-point range. The Heat also lead the NBA in second-chance treys (27), where an offensive rebounder kicks the ball out to a wide-open 3-point shooter.

At least four Heat players knock down 2.5 3-pointers per game, while two guys connect on almost three per game. Duncan Robinson averages 2.9 made treys per game and leads the Heat with a 40% success rate from downtown.

Duncan Robinson 2.9 40%
Tyler Herro 2.5 37.8%
Goran Dragic 2.5 36.3%
Jae Crowder 2.8 34.4%

If the Lakers fall behind Miami by double digits, it will be tough for them to counter with their own snipers.

The Lakers connect on 11.3 treys per game, shooting 31.9% from beyond the arc. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, and LeBron knock down roughly half of the Lakers’ treys. The Lakers don’t have anyone off the bench who can provide a threat on the perimeter, aside from Rajon Rondo (44.8%).

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