A Season to Remember
2020 has been nothing short of a surprise, and this past NBA season has been no different. With this season being unlike any other because of COVID-19, a global spotlight was put on all of the teams in the NBA bubble— the isolated area in Disney World, Orlando where the league resumed their season. Throughout the eleven-month-long season, there were plenty of wonderful stories for all of us NBA fans to follow. We gazed upon our TVs as Chris Paul and co. dazzled in Oklahoma City, leading the Thunder to the 5th seed in the Western Conference after overcoming ESPN BPI’s 0.2% odds of making the playoffs. We witnessed James Harden and the Houston Rockets as they underwent offensively-overpowered small-ball Renaissance, while Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks plowed their way to the best record in the league… only to lose in the second round. We marveled as Nick Nurse and his defending champion Toronto Raptors dominated their way to the second-best record in all of basketball, even after losing superstar forward Kawhi Leonard over the offseason. We laughed as Leonard and his new teammates on the Los Angeles Clippers embarrassed themselves on a worldwide stage, blowing a 3-1 lead to the underdog Denver Nuggets. We celebrated as the Golden State Warriors racked up loss after loss and gradually developed the worst record in the league, causing them to miss the NBA Finals for the first time in over six years. But after this roller-coaster ride of a season, only two teams remain, and only one will be crowned a champion.
“The King” vs. “Jimmy Buckets”
As much as we may have hated to admit it, all NBA fans knew that the Los Angeles Lakers would be sitting right here, representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. In fact, the only real question fans were left to speculate about was who they would be facing. From the moment GM Rob Pelinka paired up superstar forward Anthony Davis with the greatest player of our generation in LeBron James, we knew that this would be an NBA Finals caliber team. Davis and James dominated their way through the regular season, leading the Lakeshow to the best record in the Western Conference as each of them went on to have amazing individual seasons. Davis put up twenty-six points and nine rebounds per game, while also making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year, averaging two blocks and one steal. James, per usual, had a fantastic season of his own, finishing second in the MVP race with twenty-five points per game and a league-leading 10 assists per contest. This team is a well-rounded offensive and defensive squad, with their only major flaw being the severe lack of depth. Nobody has truly emerged as a consistent third scoring option behind James and Davis, with players such as Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Rajon Rondo flirting with the ten-point mark. As a direct result of this, the team has recently had to sign washed-up veterans such as Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. Lakers fans must hope that this team’s sheer star power will help neutralize their lack of depth, or else they could be in for a long series.
To better get to know the Laker’s upcoming foe, let’s go back to June 2019. The Miami Heat had just finished a mediocre 39-43 season– their first losing season since 2015. Dwyane Wade, the second-leading scorer on the team and the best player in franchise history retired. In addition, star center Hassan Whiteside was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, and guards Tyler Johnson and three-point specialist Wayne Ellington were flipped to the Phoenix Suns. On the bright side, the team was able to deal leading scorer Josh Richardson for superstar forward Jimmy Butler, but even this trade was viewed with skepticism, as Butler was about to turn 30, and his play had supposedly been declining for years. When the season had just started to begin, nobody thought anything of this Heat team, and Jimmy Butler and co. went out and proved the whole world wrong. And by the way, Butler did not do it himself. This team developed outstanding depth, as formerly underrated and undervalued players started to emerge as great offensive and defensive options. Third-year Kentucky product Bam Adebayo solidified his spot as a top center in the NBA, not only replacing Whiteside but becoming even better. Adebayo was able to make the All-Star game and showed the entire league the true meaning of a modern-day NBA big-man, contributing with his shooting, rebounding, defense, speed and ability to help space the floor. Undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn was able to average fifteen points per game, putting him in the conversation for Rookie of the Year with contemporaries Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. 20-year-old rookie Tyler Herro averaged thirteen points per game off the bench during the regular season, and took his game to an entirely new level in the playoffs, now averaging nearly seventeen points per game. As he usually does each season, veteran guard Goran Dragic also added some extra punch off the bench for the Heat, putting up sixteen points per contest, a tally that increased to twenty-one during the playoffs. Three-point contest participant and former Division III college basketball player Duncan Robinson has put up thirteen points per game for the Heat, after averaging only three per outing last season, providing clutch range and spacing for this Heat offense. Wing players Jae Crowder and veteran Andre Iguodala came to the Heat at the trade deadline and since have offered some valuable experience and advice to this young team. And let’s not forget Jimmy Butler, the heart and soul of the Heat, whose twenty points per game, invaluable defense, and high basketball IQ has been key for this team. The Miami Heat have not only defied all odds and predictions to make it to this point, but they now have a great chance to challenge the alpha-dog Lakers in the Finals, with a team full of great players. Overall, the team’s spacing has been impeccable, allowing for plenty of three-pointers, making the team an offensive powerhouse. Defensively, the team has been doing just as good, with lockdown defenders such as Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, and Bam Adebayo leading the way. This team has proved everyone wrong all season long, so why shouldn’t they be able to do it again?