LeBron, Lakers go for glory

A Miami Heat-L.A. Lakers NBA Finals comes as no surprise to regular readers of this column since I wrote last week that both would wrap up their conference titles by the close of business on Sunday.

It is a stunner as far as final bubble pairings go since the East’s fifth seed had to get by the top-seeded Bucks and Celtics after breaking out the brooms against the Pacers.

The Lakers were expected to get here in 2020, even though “here” is an Orlando bubble that serves as the most non-traditional Finals setting imaginable. Playing out in October instead of June, the NBA’s championship round will see 35-year-old LeBron James back to seek a fourth ring following a one-year hiatus. He’s making his 10th Finals appearance, having qualified for eight straight with the Heat and Cavs from 2011-18.

James went for 38 points, 16 boards and 10 assists in the Western Conference finals clincher against Nuggets and looks both fresh and determined. Make no mistake, he’s still the best and most important player in the series and is motivated to avoid slipping to 3-7 in the championship round.

Tag-team partner Anthony Davis is the most talented, arriving in the offseason and instantly transforming an L.A. team that hadn’t won a playoff series since 2012 into the favorite to win it all when odds were set. The Lakers have been a co-favorite to win it all alongside the Clippers and only briefly slid behind the Bucks, so they’re obviously expected to defeat a Miami squad that opened the month 9-1 to win it all at Caesars.

What I do find surprising is that they’re so heavily favored in these NBA Finals, opening 9-2 (-450) at the Westgate SuperBook. The Heat are 15-4 (+375), offering a terrific payout in a series I expect comes down to a Game 7.

I think the Lakers prevail, but I don’t recommend betting that series future unless you really enjoy the sweat. Keep reading for a better idea if you’re determined to bet on L.A.

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Miami has had a different leading scorer in all three rounds in point guard Goran Dragic against Indiana, Jimmy Butler versus the Bucks and Bam Adebayo against the Celtics. All three of those guys have been All-Stars.

The Heat also have the top two shooters in the series in the presence of Duncan Robinson and rookie standout Tyler Herro, who averaged nearly 20 points per game in serving as the X-factor against Boston. Andre Iguodala, the only player in the Heat rotation with a ring, went 5-for-5 from long distance in the Game 6 clincher, rising from the dead since he’d been a liability at other times in these playoffs. Jae Crowder has been sturdy and offers another option that can be thrown at James.

Miami has strength in numbers and match up nicely in attempting to keep the Lakers from their 17th title. The 31-year-old Butler has crossed paths with James in the playoffs before as a member of the Bulls in ’12 and ’15. He got in his licks against this decade’s greatest player and is one of the adversaries James most respects.

Adebayo, enjoying a breakout third season, was named Second Team All-Defense and will make Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Davis work harder than he’s had to all postseason. The 2-3 zone that the Heat used to get past the Celtics should get plenty of use from head coach Erik Spoelstra, who is 3-0 against L.A.’s Frank Vogel in playoff series. If the Lakers go cold from beyond the arc, they’ll be vulnerable.

Both teams are 12-3 on the NBA campus at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, so this will be the toughest challenge Los Angeles has faced. Miami hasn’t been down in a series. That alone should give you pause in going “chalk.” Ultimately, I don’t see James being denied as he winds up Finals MVP, but this series should be filled with twists.

Wednesday

Heat vs. Lakers -4.5: After a successful week, we’ll look to keep filling your pockets. Wednesday’s Game 1 should see the Heat make it obvious that this is going to be one heck of a series by winning outright.

Two of L.A.’s three losses in the bubble have come in Game 1, while Miami is unbeaten despite being an underdog in two of its wins. Take the five points to play it safe but if you’re feeling frisky, the money line is paying out +175. HEAT

If L.A. finds itself down 1-0, that would be the time to bet the Lakers since they’re still likely to be favored in series prices but would be far closer to even money.

Friday

Heat vs. Lakers: In Game 2, don’t expect the opening Total of 217.5 to be surpassed as the Heat perfect what they want to do with their zone and L.A. locks in defensively.

Given the presence of rim protectors like Davis, Adebayo, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, points in the paint will be harder to come by. UNDER

Last week: 2-0-1

Season: 44-29-2