The Los Angeles Lakers toyed with the Miami Heat 124 – 114 in Game 2 to inch closer to the NBA crown. Two more games. Two more problem-free games like that, and we’ve got ourselves a champion. Ho-hum. Yawn. Much as I would love to see a more competitive series, at this point, it looks like it really is all over but the shouting.
Early on, I had said that whoever emerges victorious in the West would eventually win the championship. This is not a knock against the Eastern Division, but I had always felt that the real heavyweight teams were holding court in the Pacific coast. Maybe something about the beaches there. Yeah, maybe it’s the salt water! Look at how Miami annexed the Eastern flag. But then again, we had a feisty Denver Nuggets team that almost made it too. Nahh, it ain’t the salt, I guess.
This year’s version of the Heat was supposed to give the Lakers a good fight. Sadly, the team’s top 3 players were felled one by one by unfortunate injuries right at the start of Game 1. Yep, it looked like the basketball gods were making sure no one else but Lebron would hoist that championship banner. With Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic unable to play in Game 2, and Jimmy Butler playing gingerly through the pain, there was simply no way for the Heat to make a serious challenge. Given this severely decimated line-up, the Heat would have encountered more difficulties in the first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, let alone the 2nd round against the Milwaukee Bucks, or the Eastern Conference Championship against the Boston Celtics.
To be fair, the Los Angeles Lakers truly deserved to make it to the Finals. And be given the chance to play for the crown eventually. The amount of work they put in, individually and collectively, pre-COVID or otherwise, was something the cage gods must have favored.
Lebron had suffered a serious groin injury which sidelined him for most of last year’s season. Lebron went to work after that nonetheless, getting his body back in shape, and learning new moves to create an even better version of himself. While the previous version of Lebron was already a devastating scorer and rebounder, this one was more scary, with his assists adding another awesome dimension to his already stacked arsenal.
Lebron looked old last year, even to the point of being pushed to play defense by Kyle Kuzma in a losing game against the Clippers. He was vilified no end last year for trying to sell off the rest of the team in order to get Anthony Davis for a partner. And for the first time since 2011, Lebron would not figure in the NBA Finals. Disrespected, treated with disdain by some of his teammates, Lebron simply shrugged off the negativity. This year, he is back with a vengeance; bulldozing through the opposition like a merciless stormtrooper. His ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach to the games is rubbing off on the rest of Lakers. Everybody is on point right now, with nothing less than the championship for their goal.
Anthony Davis, the recipient of countless double and triple-teaming efforts in his previous life, is proving to be a big catalyst for this team. The way he dominated the Heat’s bigs in the shaded area underscores the big disparity, with the absence of Bam Adebayo. AD’s presence on both ends of the court was just too much for the smaller Heat team. Not only was he the anchor in the Lakers’ much-vaunted defense, he was also scoring more easily with Lebron and the other Lakers providing multiple scoring threats.
And that’s to a large extent thanks to Rajon Rondo, who was originally AD’s chief ball distributor during his stint with the New Orleans Pelicans. Rajon gave the Lakers varied looks and scoring opportunities with his veteran savvy. He always had the right reads on the Heat’s defense, and was mainly responsible for getting the team reorganized after falling behind 23-10 in Game 1. He was also responsible for getting the perfect pass to Anthony Davis to win the crucial Game 2 against the Nuggets. He is arguably the team’s 3rd wheel, supporting the premiere tag team of the NBA in a big way.
And of course, Coach Frank Vogel. Coach Frank has been able to keep the team focused on the job at hand. He took over a team that was disunited; that had lost respect for their previous coach; that had talent, but had not been able to harness them. The team was in total disarray at the time he joined the Lakers, having high expectations with the acquisition of Lebron. That lack of chemistry, that lack of trust in each other would hound the team for most of last season, making them fall flat on their faces.
Coach Frank was able to address all of that. First, he provided more emphasis on defense, making the Lakers the top defensive team in the league. He was able to clearly define the role of each player, making the team jell despite the many new additions to the team. With the team’s chemistry and morale at a new high, the basketball gods were finally convinced that indeed, these Lakers deserved the championship trophy.
It’s all over but the shouting. The way the Lakers are playing, with their supreme confidence, and with no trace of pressure in their faces. With their clear advantage in skill, in size, in savvy, in sheer strength. And with the fateful injuries to key Heat players. The Lakers are simply better, bigger and badder at this point. That said, I expect the Lakers to close the series in 4 games. This simply was not the way this Finals was supposed to go. But that’s just how the cookie crumbles. A toast to the new champs then?
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of the LA Daily News. Other pics courtesy of: Miami Herald, Manila Bulletin, The Sun Sentinel, Ocala.com, Richmond Times Dispatch, the Washington Post, West Central Tribune, Yahoo! Sports, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the Orange County Register and Sports Illustrated.