It may have come a few months later than expected, but the NBA Finals matchup is finally set. The Los Angeles Lakers, owners of the Western Conference’s number 1 seed are seeking an NBA-best 17th championship. They will face the Miami Heat, a number 5 seed on a Cinderella run to the Finals after several years out of contention.
Hollywood couldn’t script it any better. LeBron vs his former team. Pat Riley against the Lakers. Coach Spo against LeBron. So many storylines in this matchup. The Lakers may be entering the series as heavy favorites, but the Heat have been slaying giants since the playoffs began. To quote Tom Petty, they “won’t back down.”
LeBron Against His Former Team
This series will be a unique challenge for LeBron James. He started winning championships as a member of the Miami Heat nearly a decade ago when he famously “took his talents to South Beach.” Now, he will have to face his former team. Role players face former employers in the Finals fairly often. However, superstars rarely find themselves in that position. No Finals MVP has ever faced the team that he won the award with in the past. LeBron, will be the first.
LeBron isn’t the only one turning back the clock. Heat president Pat Riley began his coaching career with the Lakers. Since he left the team in 1990, he has not faced them in a playoff series as either a coach or an executive. This could be Riley’s last true shot at a 10th championship ring, and it comes against the team that helped him earn his first six. This matchup will be personal. It will also serve as a capper on one of the greatest playing careers of all-time (LeBron) or one of the greatest executive careers (Riley). Someone is going to leave this series with one of the most satisfying championships of his career.
If there is anyone who really knows the “in’s and out’s” of LeBron James, it’s Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Coach Spo coached James en-route to his first two NBA titles of his career. No big deal. Spo has been one of the best coaches in the league since he took over in Miami, and is often unheralded for all he has done since the “Big-3” run came to an end. Given his familiarity, he’s sure to know how to set up a defense to limit James. And that is yet another storyline to follow, making this series all the more interesting.
How They Got Here
The Lakers have made quick work of all three playoff opponents they’ve faced. Despite losing the first game of the series against Portland and Houston, the Lakers won four straight to finish off those series in 5 games. They were rather unchallenged in the other games as well. Against the Nuggets, game 1 was a different story, it was a Lakers blowout. However, had it not been for an Anthony Davis buzzer beater in game 2, that series might still have some life. The Lakers dropped game 3, but held off Denver in games 4 and 5 to close out their third consecutive series in five games.
The Heat have a record to equal the Lakers in the playoffs. They swept the Pacers in the opening round, finished off Giannis and the Bucks in five games, then outlasted the Boston Celtics in six. A No 5 seed has ever won an NBA finals, and the Heat will look to become the first. Their cohesion, defensively and offensively, is unlike anything we have seen in modern day NBA basketball. They operate almost like a dominant college basketball program, but with NBA talent. It is egoless basketball, and it’s been refreshing to see.
The Lakers and Heat played twice this season. The Lakers won both matchups. Round 1 was a 95-80 shellacking in Los Angeles. The Lakers held the Heat to only 34 second-half points. Things got closer when the venue shifted to Miami for the second round, but again, the Lakers came out on top, 113-110. Still, don’t put too much stock in those matchups. They were not in the bubble, and the Heat roster was nothing like it is now. They added Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala in February, both of whom are expected to play key roles against the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 9pm
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 2, 9pm
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 4, 7:30pm
Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 6, 9pm
Game 5: Friday, Oct. 9, 9pm (If necessary)
Game 6: Sunday, Oct. 11, 7:30pm (If necessary)
Game 7: Tuesday, Oct. 13, 9:00pm (If necessary)