Last June, the NBA saw the Toronto Raptors win their first championship, a finals without Lebron James for the first time in eight years and the Golden State Warriors dynasty come to an end.
This season, Golden State is bottom last in the standings, Toronto is still thriving after the departure of Kawhi Leonard and Lebron James' Los Angeles Lakers are at the top of the West.
The NBA is completely different from the previous year. Stars like Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and D'Angelo Russell all went to new teams. The East and West are both very strong and in my mind there isn’t a clear cut favourite out of either conference.
Here is my prediction for the 2020 NBA Finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers vs The Miami Heat
Los Angeles Lakers
I said I don’t see a clear favourite in either conference but I still took the first place team in the West. The Los Angeles Lakers are my pick to win the Western Conference Finals.
Last year’s Laker team had a losing record and finished tenth in the West. The organization decided to trade away the majority of their young core over the summer so they could build a contender.
Anthony Davis was acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans for Lonzo Ball, Josh
Hart, and three first round picks. This trade gave the Lakers another superstar to play alongside Lebron James. The team also added Dwight Howard, Jared Dudley, Avery Bradley, Danny Green and Kostas Antetokounmpo.
Lebron has been putting up MVP numbers in his 17th NBA season, Anthony Davis leads the team with 26.6 PPG and the team has veteran presence with players like Lebrom James, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard. On March 5, LA added more depth to their bench by signing Dion Waiters who was previously a member of the Miami Heat.
The Los Angeles Clippers are another team that could contend for the Western Conference title, especially if Kawhi Leonard puts on a performance like he did in last year's NBA Finals. I can’t say the Lakers are a lock for a finals appearance when the Clippers are right behind them in the standings but in a seven game series, I see the Lakers edging out the Clippers.
The Eastern Conference is currently being dominated by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. I can’t see anybody catching them in the regular season for first seed in the East. But, I don’t see the Bucks reaching the finals. In the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, Milwaukee was up 2-0 against the Toronto Raptors before they were reverse swept in six games. Toronto’s defence was able to contain Giannis, not letting him get anywhere near the basket. I think the Miami Heat’s defence is capable of doing the same thing the Raptors did to Giannis. I’m not one to say regular season matters too much, but the Heat have matched up well against Milwaukee this season. They are 2-0 against the Bucks this year and held Giannis to 13 points in their second matchup.
Pat Riley made big moves at the deadline when he acquired Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill. Crowder and Iggy provide more defensive stability for Miami come playoff time. The Heat acquired 5x NBA all-star Jimmy Butler in the summer from Philadelphia. Butler is the star player of this Miami squad. Bam Adebayo made his first all-star appearance this year and is one of the favourites to win Most Improved Player. Goran Dragic is averaging over 16 PPG off the bench, Duncan Robinson is one of the best shooters in the NBA, already breaking Miami’s single season three pointers made record. And who can forget the baby goats; Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro are two of the best rookies in the league.
In my opinion, Miami has one of the deepest benches in the NBA. Coach Erik Spoelstra plays a team game, that’s why you’ll rarely see someone on the Heat drop 30 plus points. Everyone on the team touches the ball, everybody passes, shoots, defends and plays Miami Heat basketball. Heat culture is real with this team and if the whole squad is healthy come playoff time, they are my team to beat in the East.
Before we get into how the two teams matchup I just want to say, if this series does happen, every single journalist, analyst and media member will be grateful they get to spend two weeks in Miami and Los Angeles.
When you look on paper, the Lakers have more starpower because Lebron James and Anthony Davis are running their frontcourt. Nobody in the NBA can truly shut down Lebron but Miami has players who can contain him. The major task for any coach when making gameplans against the Lakers is who guards Lebron and who guards AD. Coach Spo has a good arsenal of defenders on his team. Jimmy Butler is one of the best two-way players in the league, Bam Adebayo is slowly becoming one of the top forward/centres in the NBA, Andre Iguodala’s defence was a huge reason why Golden State won three NBA championships and Jae Crowder can put on the clamps.
Miami’s 2-3 defense could work well against the Lakers because LA’s two best players are both forwards. Miami has lots of players who can shoot the ball from three so LA needs to pay close attention to the perimeter
Starters will start and close games for teams in the playoffs, the bench will win games. In this series the bench play will determine who wins the finals. In a seven game series, you cannot rely on your starters to play 40 minutes every night, especially after 82 regular season games and a minimum 12 previous playoff games. In the 2019 playoffs, the Toronto Raptors relied on their bench heavily. Kawhi Leonard was on load management the whole year, so throwing him into every game for 40 plus minutes wouldn’t have been the best decision. Luckily for Toronto, the bench showed up.
Like I said earlier, I think Miami has the deepest bench in the NBA but that doesn't mean LA’s bench is bad. The Lakers also have a deep team with the likes of Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Avery Bradley. Los Angeles will rely on Lebron and Davis to put up big time numbers in the Finals. But the team will need another player to emerge from the shadows and put up a few really good performances. Toronto saw it last year with the amazing play from Fred VanVleet down the stretch. I could see Howard or Rondo rekindle the flame of their past selves and help this team win a title or maybe Avery Bradley could prove to be an x-factor in the Finals. These are all hypotheticals but LA will need the best out of everyone on the court against Miami.
Miami on the other hand has seven players averaging over 12 PPG, three of them coming off the bench. Goran Dragic is the second highest scorer on the team despite only starting one game the whole season. 20-year-old rookie Tyler Herro was averaging 13 PPG before he went down with an injury. A healthy Herro could be an important player for Miami in the Finals. Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. gives Miami some additional flexibility off the bench.
I see the Lakers starting five outscoring Miami’s however, Miami’s bench will edge out LA’s.
Every postseason it seems championship teams always have a hidden gem. Someone who is not necessarily the team's best player and won’t lead the series in points. They won’t go off every game, but their spurts of greatness helps energize a team and win a game. These players aren’t the stars but their play is a big part in winning the series. Whether it is VanVleet in 2019, Iguodala in 2015 or Ray Allen in 2013, championship teams will have an unsung hero. I think these two players could be their team’s hidden gem.
Danny Green has won two NBA championships (Spurs 2014, Raptors 2019). He didn’t play the biggest role in either of those Finals series, however, when he’s on his game, Green has the potential to hit a big shot. Green is known for his three point shooting and perimeter defence. The 6’6 shooting guard can change the momentum of a game if he hits a couple of three pointers. He is 40 % from three in his career and has hit over 1,200 in his 11 seasons. If the Lakers are in a slump and Green starts knocking down threes, the flow of the game could change. He was signed this off-season for his defence and three point shooting. The Lakers are currently 16th in the league for three-point percentages, while Miami is first. Green needs to hit threes in the Finals, especially if Miami keeps draining shots from beyond the arc.
Jae Crowder was acquired at the trade deadline alongside Solomon Hill and Andre Iguodala. In 12 games with the Heat he is shooting 44% from the field and 40% from three. He is averaging 28 minutes off the bench and 12 PPG. Crowder isn’t a one dimensional player, he can rebound, shoot and defend. He has already proved to be another valuable piece to this Miami team that Pat Riley built. In the Finals his veteran presence will be good for this young Miami team. Miami has a lot of young players who have been playing really well for their age. Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Chris Silva have all contributed but also lack experience in the league. Crowder’s nine-years in the NBA makes him one of the more experienced players on the Heat. If the pressure of the Finals gets under the skin of the young core, Crowder will have to be ready to help Miami close games. Crowder’s defensive play off the bench will be important to Miami’s success in the Finals.
The Final Verdict
I won’t say who I think is winning this hypothetical Finals series. Both teams have areas where they outshine the other. LA has one of the greatest to ever play the game and another top-10 player on their team. Miami is the best three-point shooting team in the league and has one of the best if not the best bench in the NBA. It would be a treat to see these two teams play against each other in an NBA
I think it is very possible that these two teams will match up against each other in June, but they both have tough opponents trying to keep them from the Finals. The Lakers still have to win the very competitive Western Conference. The Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets and Jazz are all very good teams that could give the Lakers a run for their money. Miami sits at number four in the East. Milwaukee has lost 10 games out of 63 this season, the defending champs Toronto show no signs of slowing down, Boston has played really well this year and Philly is still in the mix.
The 2020 NBA playoffs is looking like it will be a really competitive one with no clear favourite. NBA fans will enjoy two months of really good playoff basketball before a champion is crowned. Will the Heat and Lakers make it to the finals, or will it be two different teams? The only way to find out is to watch the postseason.