2020 has been a heck of a year.
It only seems fitting that the matchup in the NBA Finals is one almost nobody saw coming.
There are plenty of storylines heading into this finals.
The first finals ever played in front of no fans.
James is facing off against the team he won his first ring ever with.
🏆 GAME 1 🏆
— NBA (@NBA) September 30, 2020
The Lakers will be making their first finals appearance since Kobe Bryant led them to the title in 2010.
The Heat will be making their first finals appearance since James left after the 2014 season.
Let’s think about three bold predictions that could help decide the NBA Finals.
1. LeBron James averages a triple-double
In 2017, LeBron became the first player to ever average a triple-double in the NBA Finals when the Cavaliers lost to the Warriors.
James’ averages that series were mind-boggling – 33.6 points-per-game, 12.0 rebounds-per-game, and 10.0 assists-per-game.
While James has arguably his best teammate ever this year in Anthony Davis, I predict James will want to leave no doubt that he is still the best player in the world.
So far this postseason, James is averaging 26.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 8.9 APG with 4 triple-doubles.
James usually reserves his best performances for when it matters most.
Playoff LeBron James.
That’s it. That’s the tweet. 👑 pic.twitter.com/tRJVyEmQFn
— Hilltop Hoops (@HilltopNBA) September 30, 2020
Given he also had a 4-month layoff due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this should be the freshest James has ever been for an NBA Finals.
Which is a scary thought for his opponent.
While the Heat do have three solid wing defenders to throw at LeBron in Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, and Andre Iguodala, nobody has ever been able to truly slow down LeBron in the finals.
James dished out a career-high 10.2 APG this season while being the primary ball-handler for the Lakers.
The Lakers also love to push the ball in transition.
LeBron James is devastating in transition.
(📺: TNT) pic.twitter.com/2ST3pqT0VD
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) September 9, 2020
To jumpstart the fastbreak, James will actively rebound on the defensive end.
This allows him to grab the ball and go immediately, rather than wait for an outlet pass from a big.
When the Lakers go small and move Davis to center, James also has more responsibility to clean the glass on the defensive end.
And James will always get his on the offensive end.
The Heat have been a very good defensive team in the playoffs.
They switch well and deploy tons of high-level defenders.
But nobody has proven they can stop the King in the Finals.
2. Jae Crowder will be the most impactful Heat player
No, this is not me saying Jae Crowder will be better than Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo.
Butler and Adebayo will need to be at their best for the Heat to have a chance.
Crowder could swing the series though.
Crowder is averaging 12.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 5.2 APG this postseason.
Not gaudy numbers by any means.
But he will be vital on the defensive end.
Since 2013-2014, these three players held LeBron to his lowest FG% when defending him;
Draymond Green – 39.3 FG%
Jimmy Butler – 41.2 FG%
Jae Crowder – 42.2 FG%
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) September 29, 2020
Crowder is a stout wing defender who has the size to match up against some bigs as well.
Because of this, he should draw minutes guarding both James and Davis.
Whether that be as the primary defender or getting them off a switch, he must be ready.
James and Davis cannot be stopped entirely given how talented they are.
But Crowder needs to make them work hard on the offensive end.
If Crowder can force the Laker stars to occasionally settle for jumpers it will be a huge win for the Heat.
This helps prevent the entire Heat defense from collapsing into the paint and leaving Laker wings open for uncontested three-pointers.
On offense, he will need to start knocking down his open looks from three.
Jae Crowder is shooting 18% from 3 on his 33 attempts since Game 2. Before that in the playoffs, he had hit 42% of his 84 attempts. The regression is here.
— Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) September 26, 2020
The Heat offense would get a huge boost if he can revert to his form he displayed from the first and second round of the playoffs.
Crowder hitting his threes will force Laker defenders to respect his shot and stay closer to him off the ball.
If Crowder can provide some offense off-the-dribble, it will only be an added bonus for the Heat.
3. Lakers win by at least 10 points each game in a sweep
The Miami Heat have been the “Cinderella Story” of the NBA Playoffs.
These are rarely seen in the NBA, but can commonly be found in the NCAA during March Madness.
And I believe the clock will strike midnight on the Heat during these finals.
A major factor in the finals is who has more finals experience?
The Heat roster only two such players with any finals experience – Udonis Haslem and Andre Iguodala.
Haslem has yet to step foot on the court during the playoffs, while Iguodala only averages 19 minutes-per-game.
The Lakers roster seven players with finals experience – LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Javale McGee, Quinn Cook, and J.R. Smith.
NBA Finals experience by team (including 2020 Finals)…
• Udonis Haslem – 6th
• Andre Iguodala – 6th
• Quinn Cook – 3rd
• Danny Green – 4th
• Dwight Howard – 2nd
• LeBron James – 10th
• JaVale McGee – 3rd
• Rajon Rondo – 3rd
• JR Smith – 5th
— Felix J. (@TwoSmooth2) September 30, 2020
Cook and Smith more than likely will not get playing time in the finals.
Rondo, Green, Howard, and McGee are all key rotational pieces for the Lakers.
And it always helps when the leader of your team has made it to the finals 9 times prior.
The experience factor mainly comes into play during preparation and the lead-up to the first game.
Younger players and those making their first trip to the finals can get distracted by the hype or caught up in the moment.
The Lakers vets will ensure this does not happen.
Experience also helps during the games.
It helps teams not get too high or too low.
It helps the players remain level headed.
The Heat are a very young team, and their lack of NBA experience could cause them to go off the rails when the finals heat up.
The other main factor for why the Lakers will sweep is star power.
The Lakers have it, and the Heat don’t.
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are both stars in their own right.
They both made the All-Star team this year and are incredibly talented players in this league.
But they aren’t in the same tier as James and Davis.
LeBron and AD are both arguably top-10 players – some may even argue they’re both top-5.
Both have the ability to single-handedly drag their team to a victory based on their pure talent on both sides of the court.
For LeBron, he has proven this to be true.
Both in the regular season and in the finals.
Star power still reigns supreme in the NBA, and the Lakers have it in spades.
Between the experience of the Lakers and the gravity-pulling talent of their two superstars, the Lakers will sweep the Heat.
Maybe Charles Barkley can save himself if he predicts a new sweep.
Chuck brings out the broom after Portland’s win 😂🧹 pic.twitter.com/NrCmtLzsrh
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 19, 2020