by Harry Porter | The Miami Heat are one of the Cinderella stories of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Jimmy Butler led the Heat through the first two rounds with a 4-0 sweep of the Indiana Pacers and a 4-1 upset over the top-ranked Milwaukee Bucks. The Boston Celtics forced a game six in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Heat’s stingy zone defense and strong fourth quarter scoring efforts earned them a berth in the 2020 NBA Finals. After losing the opening game of the first two rounds against the Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets, the Lakers would go on to win both series in four straight games. While the Denver Nuggets made formidable 3-1 comebacks in their series against Utah and the Clippers, the Lakers finished off the Nuggets in game five to advance the Finals.
Defending the pick and roll as a zone:
Here we see the Lakers begin to make the necessary adjustments to beat the Heat’s swarming zone defense. With 3:20 left in the 1st quarter, the Lakers were down 25-15 and were having issues penetrating the Heat’s zone defense. Lakers’ veteran Rajon Rondo knew the best way to beat a zone is through attacking it off picks. Rondo called Anthony Davis to set a screen on Tyler Herro, but Davis quickly recognized Jimmy Butler jumping the screen to double Rondo and slipped towards the basket. He goes by the moniker ‘Playoff Rondo’ due to his elevated postseason play, remained calm for the double team and made an excellent read. Rondo saw the Duncan Robinson dive towards the basket to cover Anthony Davis and left a wide-open Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who drained his three-point attempt. The Lakers were strong from beyond the arc in game one shooting 39.5% (15/38) and used their ability to stretch the Heat’s zone to go on a 75-30 point run and command a solid game one victory.
Improving off-ball defensive rotations:
The Heat’s defense suffered a massive collapse in games one and two of the NBA Finals. A large part in that was Bam Adebayo playing through injury in game one and missing game two (neck). In game one, we see Alex Caruso attacking the Heat’s weak side with 6:20 left in the 2nd quarter after LeBron James skips a pass across half court. Tyler Herro is late on his close out and Caruso blows by him and finishes at the rim after Butler was late with his help defense. Butler was too late to legitimately contest Caruso’s layup.
With 10:15 left in the 1st quarter of game two, Caldwell-Pope, similar to LeBron in game one, skips a cross-court pass to a wide-open Danny Green. Green attacks the Heat’s weak side and finds a wide open Dwight Howard for a lob and dunk. Meyers Leonard came over to help and Green found Howard over the top because Jae Crowder was late as the help defender. Without Bam in the lineup, the Heat are more vulnerable to weak-side dribble drive penetration and Coach Erik Spoelstra will need more defensive awareness from the Heat.
While I think the Heat would’ve posed a better opponent for the Lakers when completely healthy, the team is decimated with injuries and struggling to create stops without the heart of their defense in Adebayo. LeBron and AD have combined for 124 points over the first two games and the Lakers will look for them to continue to lead the offensive charge in game three.
My prediction: The Lakers beat the Heat 126-115 in another offensive dominating performance behind a triple double from King James and another 30-point performance from Anthony Davis. If Miami doesn’t turn around their defensive performance in game three, Los Angeles fans will be bringing out their brooms with a potential 3-0 series lead.
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