At last a Heat and Lakers matchup in the Finals
By Gerald Malunga
In 2011 the basketball world eagerly anticipated and expected an NBA Finals matchup between then defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat (who had assembled the infamous Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh). However, only one of those teams held up their end of the bargain as the Heat progressed to the Finals while the Lakers fell short against the Finals bound Dallas Mavericks.
This year, albeit in a different era and with different squad compositions, the Lakers and the Heat will finally face off with an NBA title at stake. The Heat has always reached the Finals with more star power than their opponents in previous Finals showdowns with Shaquille O'Neal and Wade in 2006 and with the aforementioned Big Three from 2011 to 2014.
This time around the tables have turned as they are facing a team with more star power while they pride themselves in team-oriented basketball. The underdog tag is something they have previously not been accustomed to in earlier Finals battles but as the fifth seed they have exceeded a lot of people's expectations while gaining respect along the way. Despite being regarded as somewhat of an underdog in this series, the Heat have impressively amassed an identical 12-3 record with the Lakers in the postseason, further demonstrating that they cannot be underestimated.
The Lakers are also on a personal mission to honour the legacy of Kobe Bryant by holding the Larry O'Brien trophy aloft, something which would have surely made him proud. Armed with the fearsome duo of James and Anthony Davis and experienced pieces such as Rajon Rondo, the Lakers are playing their best basketball in nearly a decade. They have learned to not only depend on star power but to rely on an eagerly reliable supporting cast to help carry the load. Dismantling the Portland Trail Blazers, the Houston Rockets and the Denver Nuggets has affirmed the Lakers' status as title favourites because of how they have easily recovered from minor setbacks in each series leading up to the Finals.
Perhaps the most important battle will be Jimmy Butler against James, although they are deployed in different positions, Butler likes to guard the best player on any team's roster given his knack for competitive battles. Keeping James in check is a tall order but it could be the best way to tackle the Lakers. LeBron is seeking his fourth title and he seems on a mission to reach the promised land once again.
Butler's mobility and awareness makes him alert, and he is accustomed to snatching the ball in critical periods while the ball-handler is still plotting a decisive play. James, as the primary ball-handler, will have to be at his best at all times to avoid Butler having an effect on the game, the Heat also has a secret weapon in Andre Iguodala who has proved to be a decent "LeBron stopper" in the past.
Another huge battle will be on the boards as defensive monster Bam Adebayo will go against Davis. Bam has been swatting the ball and grabbing boards for fun while being a key offensive option, as well as adding double-figure point tallies. This will be a different match up for Davis who has breezed through the postseason so far. If the Lakers have long distance shooting woes in this series, they will have to rely on manning the boards to get offensive rebounds and Davis will be tasked with that duty against the ever so reliable Bam, making this a mouth-watering clash.