The Los Angeles Lakers capped off a wild 2020 season by defeating the Miami Heat 4-2 in the NBA Finals. The Lakers were led by Lebron James, who averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists en route to becoming Finals MVP. This was James’ fourth championship ring, and fourth finals MVP.
The 2019-2020 NBA season was unlike any seen before it. The season was suspended on March 11, 2020 after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. With Covid leaving activities across the country in flux, the league remained suspended for months. Finally, play resumed in July, with the teams staying together in a bubble the NBA organized in Disney World. Players and staff were not allowed out of the bubble, and family members and friends were not allowed in until late in the playoffs. Being isolated for a long period of time provided a new psychological challenge to all the teams vying for the title.
The Lakers rode a dominant, year-long performance into the Finals matchup with Miami. Led by James, Anthony Davis and a deep collection of role players, the Lakers finished with the regular season with a 52-19 record, the best in the Western Conference. In the playoffs, LA shook off game 1 losses to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets 4-1 and defeated the Denver Nuggets 4-2 to reach the championship round.
Miami took a different path on their way to this Finals matchup. The Heat were led by offseason acquisition Jimmy Butler, rising star Bam Adebayo, and a collection of unproven young players. The Heat finished the regular season as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and shocked everyone to make it all the way. In the playoffs, they defeated the Indiana Pacers 4-0, the league best Milwaukee Bucks 4-1, and the Boston Celtics 4-2. Although Miami was playing at an exceptional level throughout the postseason, the Lakers were considered pre-series favorites, as the duo of James and Davis would be incredibly difficult to stop.
The Lakers dominated Game 1 of the series, winning in a 116-98 blowout. Davis scored 34 points and James was one assist short of a triple double, with 25 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists. During the game, Miami starters Adebayo and Goran Dragic suffered injuries, which were expected to keep them out for significant periods of time. With LA firing on all cylinders and Miami ailing, this had all the makings of a short series. Game 2 was similar to Game 1, with the Lakers leading throughout and coasting to a 124-114 victory. James and Davis once again had monster performances, and Rajon Rondo chipped in with 16 points off the bench.
Game 3 was Miami’s chance to make this a competitive series, and Butler was more than up to the task. With Adebayo and Dragic still injured, Butler had an incredible 40 point, 11 rebound, 13 assist performance to will his team to victory. Butler’s efforts gave Miami hope for a comeback, but LA took back control of the series with a close 102-96 win in Game 4. James once again led the way with 28 points, and guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provided a timely 15 points.
The Lakers looked to close out the series in Game 5 and secure their championship trophy, but Miami was not going down easy. The game was close throughout. Butler and James battled back and forth in a hotly contested fourth quarter. Butler made two free throws with 23 seconds left to put Miami up by 1, and Danny Green missed an open three with seconds remaining that would have won the championship for LA. Miami held on for a 111-108 victory, with Butler’s 35 point, 12 rebound, 11 assist performance outlasting James’ 40 point, 13 rebound, 7 assist effort. Down 3-2, Miami looked to put the pressure on LA in Game 6 and force a Game 7, but the Lakers showed up determined to end the series. Game 6 was a start to finish blowout for LA, culminating in a 106-93 Lakers victory. James, Davis, Rondo and Caldwell-Pope led the way for LA, with at least 17 points apiece.
The Lakers celebrated at midcourt with a crowd of team staffers and with fans observing virtually due to Covid attendance restrictions. The win was dedicated to Lakers and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who passed away in a tragic helicopter accident in January.
The Lakers will bring back most of their roster next year, although the status of the season is up in the air due to ongoing Covid concerns. Although the team will be considered serious championship contenders next season, the road back to the Finals will not be easy. In the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers will be returning star veterans James Harden and Kawhi Leonard and will be looking for redemption after disappointing performances in this year’s playoffs. The Denver Nuggets, featuring Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and the Dallas Mavericks, featuring Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, both had strong performances in this year’s postseason led by young talent, and are expected to continue improving next year. In addition to these contenders, the Golden State Warriors will get Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson back from injury, and the two of them plus Draymond Green will look to bring the Warriors back to the top of the NBA.
In the Eastern Conference, Miami will certainly be a contender, as will the Boston Celtics, another young team that put up a tough fight against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks still have two-time reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and are looking to redeem themselves after being upset in this year’s playoffs. The Brooklyn Nets will see Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving return from injury, as the star duo looks to bring the championship trophy to New York City.
For now, next season is projected to begin in mid-January 2021. The NBA will need to determine how losses of revenue from Covid will impact the league’s salary cap and therefore spending in free agency and off-season trades. Whenever the league starts back up though, the Lakers will be ready to defend their title and James will pursue his fifth championship ring.
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