Will Manso’s NBA Finals prediction: Don’t count out Heat

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra directs his team during the first half against the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra directs his team during the first half against the Boston Celtics on Sunday. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Since the Heat finished off the Celtics to win the Eastern Conference, I’ve been asked the same question over and over: do they have a shot against the Lakers?

My answer every time has been “absolutely!”

If you’re still doubting the Heat at this point then you obviously haven’t been paying attention to this team during the postseason. Miami is 12-3 in the playoffs, just like the Lakers, and they’ve done it with multiple guys coming through in big spots.

From Jimmy Butler to Bam Adebayo to Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro, Miami is getting an overall production that is hard to match. The beauty of this team is the depth and trust in that depth.

Andre Iguodala had a quiet postseason and then exploded for a perfect 4-4 from long distance in the clinching win over Boston. Jae Crowder and Duncan Robinson have also had some huge moments throughout the playoff run.

Los Angeles has the best two players in this series. That’s something you can’t really argue. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are not only the two biggest stars in these finals, but they’re two of the top five players in the NBA. They’re the reason why the Lakers are an overwhelming favorite in the eyes of so many.

But, here’s why I like the Heat’s chances. After those two stars, the next list of top players in this series all play for the Heat. Butler, Adebayo, Dragic, Herro, Robinson, Crowder and Iguodala are all better, in my opinion, than the Lakers 3rd piece in a series like this. Yes, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Danny Green are all quality veterans players who can still produce. I would still take that grouping of Heat players over any of them right now.

If the Heat don’t hinder LeBron and AD a bit then none of that will make a difference. Like they did against Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round, Miami must cut off James with multiple players in his path to the basket. He can’t come up court and just storm his way past Heat defenders. When LeBron gets going he’s like a freight train. As Erik Spoelstra said earlier in the week, “his ability to do what he does at his age is incredibly uncommon.”

Miami won’t stop LeBron, but they have shown the ability in the past to slow him down enough to put the pressure on other players to get the job done. Davis may be the tougher challenge because the Heat just don’t have the size to really slow him down.

Spoelstra will have to utilize multiple defensive looks, including more use of the zone, to try and confuse LA into turnovers and a slower style of play. Playing up-tempo will just play right into the hands and strength of Los Angeles.

So why do I think Miami will win this series?

I think the Heat can do enough to slow down what the Lakers want to do offensively, and I feel Miami has a good idea of how to attack the Lakers defense.

The Heat will keep using the pace and space style that has been so effective in the postseason. Miami’s shooting from three-point range will be the difference. The Heat live and die by the three, and unlike the Celtics, I don’t think LA will get around quick enough to find the open shooters.

Should the Lakers be the favorite? Sure, I get it. They have two elite players. Should you discount the Heat? Go ahead. The Bucks and Celtics learned the hard way.

Give Spoelstra this depth and his ability to scheme and change things up as the games go on, and I like the Heat’s chances.

Series prediction: Miami in 6.

Series MVP: Jimmy Butler

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