The Los Angeles Lakers have been put on notice. Despite playing severely shorthanded, Miami is not conceding them the NBA title as a fait accompli.
With Sunday’s stunning performance by Miami’s Jimmy Butler the NBA Finals are assured of going at least five games. The Lakers took last Wednesday’s opener much easier than expected, winning 116-98 as short 4.5-point favorites (they led by 26 after three quarters).
But the major story from that game were the injuries suffered by Miami’s Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo. Playing just 14 and 21 minutes, the pair missed all of Games 2 and 3.
Trailing 0-2 and being 9.5 underdogs in Game 3, the Heat pulled a major upset, leading much of the way in its 115-104 win. Butler had only the third triple double in NBA Finals history, scoring 40 points with 13 assists and 11 rebounds.
As we went to press on Tuesday, Adebayo was upgraded to ‘questionable’ for Tuesday night’s game four with Dragic listed as ‘doubtful.’ Dragic’s comments sound as though he could be lost for the balance of the series, even if it goes seven games as he’s played through a torn plantar fascia in his left foot.
After being favored by 10 and 9.5 points in games two and three, following Miami’s upset win the Westgate SuperBook opened the Lakers as 7.5- point chalk for Tuesday night and the early money came on the Heat, lowering the line to -7. The Total dropped from 219.5 to 218.5.
ðŸ˜ “Despite the presence of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s marquee player and franchise, the league continues to see its Finals ratings plummet to previously unfathomed lows” https://t.co/yb6gyL0CRg
— Tammy Bruce (@HeyTammyBruce) October 6, 2020
Leading 2-1 and being heavily favored in Game 4, the Lakers, who opened as -450 favorites prior to the series, are now 10-1 favorites (-1000) to win the series.
When reading this column Wednesday the Lakers will either have a 3-1 lead or the series will be tied at 2-2, assuring at least a six-game series.
The Lakers made a statement to me in the opening game, dominating from start to finish as perhaps a recognition that they respected and took the Heat seriously, wanting to serve early notice that they – the Lakers – were clearly the team to beat.
In winning Game 2, the Lakers took advantage of the absence of Dragic and Adebayo. Although not winning by the dominant margin of Game 1, it’s possible the Lakers figured the remainder of the series would be stress-free and easy.
Butler virtually singlehandedly led the Heat to the Game 3 upset. LeBron James had an uncharacteristic eight turnovers and Anthony Davis added five more in what was a sloppy Lakers effort. It was an effort that could support a suggestion of complacency and a lack of focus, making for what would now have been an intriguing situation Tuesday night. How would the Lakers respond?
The Lakers should have responded with a strong effort, not allowing Miami to build upon their momentum from Game 3. Certainly Butler will be the center of attention, even if Adebayo progresses from ‘questionable’ to ‘on the court.’
The Lakers showed defensive intensity in winning the opener in holding the Heat to 31 percent 3-point shooting (11 of 35). They also need to control the boards, outrebounding the Heat in each game and by 31 overall.
LeBron and A.D. have combined to play more than 70 minutes in each game. A little more rest in quarters two and three would be helpful in having both rested and fresh to play as much of the fourth quarter as needed when Miami has made nice runs throughout the playoffs.
Lakers vs. Heat: Here in Game 5, Miami will be facing elimination or will have tied the series on Tuesday. Either situation favors a big effort from the Lakers.
I expect the Lakers will have regained focus in game four and will be looking wrap up the series here. A repeat of Butler’s Sunday performance on Tuesday appears unlikely. But if the Heat did pull the upset Tuesday, the Lakers should take the same approach to this game as they did in the opener – take control early and play relentless defense to stifle any meaningful Miami comeback in what would then be a best of three series with Miami having all the momentum.
The Lakers have come too far. The acquisition of Davis has given LeBron the support he needed to make the Lakers a championship team. I expect a complete effort from the Lakers, either out of desperation (if tied) or in celebration (if clinching the title). LAKERS
Last week: 0-0-1