NBA Roundtable: Do the Heat stand a chance against a locked-in LeBron?

Profile Picture: Ryan Murphy

September 28th, 2020

BetAmerica has teamed up with Covers and OddsChecker to break down the latest news and trends from around the Association. This week NBA columnists Jason LoganSam Farley and Ryan Murphy share their NBA Finals predictions and discuss the Lakers’ third best star and the Nuggets’ downfall.

The Heat will face the Lakers in an NBA Finals that no one expected when the season began. What’s your series prediction?

Jason: Lakers fan with a Lakers pick. Give me L.A. in six games. Everyone expected Portland, Houston, and Denver to shock the world and give Los Angeles issues. That hasn’t been the case. Miami does match up better in terms of bodies, toughness, and depth, but LeBron didn’t come this far to lose. He wills the Lakers back to glory in a very physical series. Mamba forever.

Sam: I want Jimmy Butler to get a ring so badly, but I can’t see anything but a Lakers series win if Anthony Davis’ injury isn’t too severe. I think the Heat will get a win or two, but that will probably be it, so let’s say Lakers in six. Miami has surprised us multiple times this year, and may do so again, but this is ultimately L.A.’s series to lose.

Ryan: In any other year I’d be concerned about the mileage on LeBron James’ 35-year-old body, but (spoiler alert) 2020 hasn’t been any other year. King James hasn’t had to travel since arriving in Orlando on July 10, and will be coming off four days of rest when the NBA Finals tip off on Wednesday evening. James is hard enough to beat at the worst of times, but he’s virtually unstoppable when he’s reinvigorated and locked-in. Like Jason and Sam, I’m also picking Lakers in six, but I expect two of those games to be double-digit blowouts for L.A.

Much has been made of the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but at this point who is the Lakers’ third most important player?

Jason: I like the attitude and experience Rajon Rondo brings to the table. He’s L.A.’s villain and every team needs an a-hole. He can frustrate Miami’s young guards while also settle the Lakers’ suspect backcourt and provide playmaking outside of LeBron and AD. He’s gasoline on the fire. 

Sam: I’ve been vocal previously that I just don’t like the depth of this team, and I still think it feels very much like two guys and a bunch of also-rans. For me, their third most important player is Rajon Rondo. Sure, he isn’t starting, but he comes off the bench and adds real value to the team. He’s been good for 9.1 points per game in the postseason, and has good numbers in rebounds and assists. He’s a key member of this team.

Ryan: I think a more relevant question is, does it even matter? When LeBron James and Anthony Davis are combining for 70 points a night you can fill out your roster with a bunch of stiffs from your local YMCA and still win a championship. With that said, I love the physicality and hard-nosed defense that Dwight Howard has been providing. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has done a superb job of keeping possessions alive while also keeping AD fresh by allowing him to play the four. Howard won’t be able to neutralize Bam Adebayo all on his own during the Finals, but he can sway the series by limiting his ability to control the boards.  

The Nuggets came tantalizingly close to reaching the NBA Finals. What do they need to push them over the top in 2021?

Jason: The L.A. teams to fold? Denver isn’t going to get over the top if guys like LeBron and AD are healthy and in the way. We saw a fascinating maturation for guys like Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in the bubble but they’re still second and third-tier superstars in a league that always comes down to elite talent. I think Denver can be the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season and is a tough out in the playoffs given that home-court/thin air edge. But again, is your best guy better than theirs?

Sam: This is still a young team and I think they have so much to offer going forward. Denver has some big contracts to sort out, but in all honesty, I think the experience gained in the 2020 NBA Playoffs alone could be enough to push them over the top next year. Going through this postseason, with all the good and bad moments it provided, will be a huge learning point for the team. I think the Nuggets are going to be a real handful next year.

Ryan: Player development. I firmly believe Denver has all the pieces it needs, but it will require a mini leap from Michael Porter Jr., who flourished at times in the bubble. The 22-year-old scored 23 points or more five times in Orlando, and is a mismatch nightmare thanks to his range and athleticism. MPJ still needs to improve his decision making, like many young players, but he has the look of a future star. Beyond that, the Nuggets should also ensure Bol Bol splits his offseason equally between the basketball court and the buffet. The human beanpole showed flashes of brilliance prior to the playoffs, but still needs to add bulk and strength to become a consistent threat.

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