I’m going to say something right off the top that will likely annoy some people. I’m not going for the hot take and I’m not trying to be facetious. However, I will say, that perhaps the NBA playoffs should always take place in a bubble.
I understand that nothing about this situation is optimal. Digital fans are a weird concept and people are making the argument that this championship should come with an asterisk because teams haven’t had to travel to compete. Naturally, I consider this argument to be asinine. Players in the bubble can’t sleep in their own beds, don’t have the ability to take advantage of their daily routines and so on. Every game ostensibly feels like a road game. Moreover, we never remember teams who’ve won championships during shortened seasons regardless of circumstance. In the end we’ll remember that there was a season affected by COVID 19 but more importantly we’ll remember that either the Lakers or the Heat were crowned champions.
The main reason I am enjoying this experience is the execution of play is simply out of this world. The bubble has given us a chance to marvel at the impressive shooting afforded to us by this generation’s finest marksmen. In the bubble we’ve seen shooter who needed to be marked from half court and the result was a game that was truly a beautiful artistic expression of the height of human athleticism. There are plenty of examples of the efficiency improving in the bubble via www.basketball-refernce.com as reported by Mike Prada of www.fivethirtyeight.com. Half court offensive efficiency improved from 95 to 98.7 points per 100 possessions and total efficiency increased from 111.95 points to 113.17 per 100 possessions. When you combine that with the impressive increased pace of game due to having to mark shooters from further away we have exciting shoot-outs on a nightly basis. Much of this has to do with improved sightlines and less cluttered areas near the corners as benches are much further from the court than they usually are.
So the offensive game has been downright mesmerizing. However, people were excited to see Giannis Antetokounmpo challenge Kawhi in his new home and instead are being offered a final that seems, on the surface less exciting. I don’t agree. The NBA has always managed to be exciting despite being fairly predictable. Typically over a seven game series the team with the best star player wins the game. Last season’s miracle NBA championships saw the Raptors take advantage of Kawhi Leonard being the best player on the court after injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson sidelined or limited them. We do have the example of the 2004 NBA finals where the Detroit Pistons upset the Lakers as inner turmoil derailed the team. However, examples such as that are few and far between. This playoff series saw the Miami Heat upset the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics. The Denver Nuggets provided us with a modicum of Cinderella feel good as they came back from 3-1 in back to back series before finally falling to the Lakers in 5 games. Ladies and gents, I am here for ALL of that!
There is also the sentiment that this isn’t the final that anyone asked for. Both teams carry a sense of stigma to NBA fans for a variety of reasons. The Heat are taking their third core to the finals in 15 years. Miami is often chastised by sports fans for being a bad sports town and there are reasons to support that for sure. We cannot deny the success of the team and has anyone else realized that they’ve appeared in six finals in a decade and a half.
They play a style of basketball that is infuriating. Defensively, they have the length and athleticism that allows for them to implement switching, hug and under defensive strategies and trapping in key moments. They are disciplined and have made NBA stars struggle to perform (Giannis) and turn the ball over (Jayson Taytum). They also have the athletes to be able to cover a ton of ground in their 2-3 zone allows them to control the gaps created by cutters and ball movement. The result is that they force offense that looks constipated and isn’t aesthetically pleasing at all.
That isn’t the real reason that people hate Heat. People hold the Heat accountable for the spectacle that Lebron James created when ESPN hosted “The Decision”. NBA fans largely had their feel good hurt when LeBron chose to join with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in Miami and this was perceived as unfair as it created what some considered to be an unprecedented “Super-Team”. However, those who felt that way are ignorant of history as super teams have always existed in the NBA (no I won’t list them, you know how to use Google). So LeBron went to a team that has already been fairly disliked in recent history and did so in a way that really bothered people. I personally wasn’t a fan of the TV show and the subsequent press conference but I love the idea that players keep their teams accountable by trusting themselves to move to other teams if they aren’t on a team that is building a culture for success.
Shortly therafter, we saw two championships won by the Heat and after a short return “home” (Clevland isn’t Akron and the Cavs aren’t the Zips), LBJ took a Space Jam-sized leap to the city of Angels and after a quick rebuild, the Purple and Gold are back in the finals. There is no shortage of storylines in this game. LA’s favorite son Kobe Bryant passed away earlier this year and the Lakers have been wearing snake-skin patterned jerseys to honor the late Lakers’ legend. Lebron also returns to face Spoelstra and Riley after being the human personification of a text ghosting in Las Vegas as he was deciding to leave the team.
The story lines are plentiful and I’m excited to see whether Lebron and AD can validate their move to the Lake Show. Meanwhile, the Miami heat are looking to establish that their culture continues to reign supreme.
Peeze: Lakers in 5
Terry: Heat in 7
Duke the Graphite: Lakers in 4
Alex the Intern: Lakers in 6
Jon Factually: Lakers in 7
Will Power: Heat in….3!