History Is on the Lakers' Side to Win the Title

The Heat will be a trendy underdog entering the NBA Finals, but if you know your NBA history then you know why the Lakers will raise the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Dwight Howard LeBron James Lakers Nuggets Game 5 2020
USA Today Sports

Sep 26, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (39) and forward LeBron James (23) celebrate against the Denver Nuggets during the first half in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard LeBron James Lakers Nuggets Game 5 2020

History was made Sunday when the Heat became just the third No. 5 seed or lower to make the NBA Finals. And history tells us Miami doesn’t stand much of a chance to leave the bubble as champions.   

While the squad from South Beach may be a sexy pick by select pundits and fans to win the Finals for plenty of legitimate reasons, there’s an obvious reason why the likelihood of Miami raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy would best be described as slim and more boldly defined as none. If you’re familiar with your NBA history, then you should know the deal.   

Success in the Association is, of course, predicated on star power, and the rosters of nearly every champion this century has featured multiple stars. We can argue all day long what constitutes a star in today’s NBA, but generally, you know one when you see one and only Heat die-hards would argue their squad has one. 

The only one worth arguing about, of course, is Jimmy Butler. The Heat’s dynamic guard/forward has made himself into an incredible success story as a five-time All-Star and a three-time All-NBA Team honoree. He’s making max money, does it all on the floor, and just about every team (other than the Timberwolves) would love to have him on their squad. Never short on confidence, JJ Redick joked around with us on a recent episode of the Load Management podcast that, “According to Jimmy Butler, Jimmy Butler is the greatest player in the NBA.”

But we all know otherwise and only Heat sycophants and sports gambling suckers looking to cash in big on an underdog will buy into the idea that a team featuring Butler as its best player will beat a team featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis—two top 5 NBA players and the precise kind of superstar duo that historically has carried a franchise to a title.    

Star power will be the difference in these Finals. And with all due respect to one of our favorites in the Association—Jimmy Buckets—Hollywood’s stars are too bright to be out-shined by anyone on South Beach.

Run through the champions of the 2000s and you’ll see nothing but title winners littered with stars. Starting with the early 2000 Lakers to the Spurs teams with multiple Hall of Famers on them to the Big Three in Miami to the NBA’s most recent dynasty in the Bay Area. You win with stars and the more you have the better your odds.  

Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. But those exceptions featured legendary players putting on legendary performances. The Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks in 2011 and the Kawhi Leonard-led Raptors last year are two exceptions since those future Hall of Famers didn’t have running mates anywhere near their level. The 2004 Pistons championship squad full of grizzled veterans that only featured one All-Star that season (Ben Wallace), is the only real outlier.

Detroit’s upset of Los Angeles was significant—the Pistons were the biggest underdog to win the Finals in almost 50 years and the Heat, installed with +350 odds to beat the Lakers, would be the second biggest underdog champs in modern NBA history. Detroit beat a disjointed Lakers squad that featured Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant who were ready to be done with each other after years of butting heads. Sixteen years later, the Lakers’ new dynamic duo of AD and LeBron have been a lethal combo (Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in Net Rating in the playoffs) and their chemistry is off the charts. Beating two superstars that are practically impossible to contain, relatively healthy, and like playing with each other over a seven-game series feels like a monumental task for Miami. 

But it’s not impossible There are obvious reasons why the Heat will be a live underdog in the Finals and could pull off the upset. For starters, they’re on a bit of a magical run in Orlando, and sometimes in sports that kind of cosmic momentum is too great to fuck up. Displaying the kind of team chemistry the Clippers could only dream about, the Heat genuinely like each other, have avoided any kind of drama, and shown zero desire to duck out of bubble life early unlike some other squads.

Jimmy Butler Heat Celtics Game 5 2020

Matchup wise, we all know the Heat will not be able to contain James and Davis. But they can throw bodies at both—Butler, Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk, and even Andre Iguodala—and Miami features a deep, dynamic roster whose supporting cast is arguably on par with the Lakers’.

Miami will have the advantage on the sidelines. Erik Spoelstra is one of the most respected coaches in the league and he’s been superb these playoffs. Out-coaching the young genius Brad Stevens in the Eastern Conference Finals—most notably by utilizing the 2-3 zone that gave the Celtics fits—Spoelstra has a championship pedigree that Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who has had a great first season in Los Angeles, can’t match.

There’s of course an insane amount of confidence coursing through the veins of the Heat players—young ones like Tyler Herro and old vets like Goran Dragic—as they’ve rolled through the first three rounds. And we can’t ignore the whole “Heat Culture” narrative—thanks, Pat Riley—even though it makes you gag when you hear about the franchise’s mystical powers for the 4,080th time.

But let’s remember to keep it simple here stupid. Star power will be the difference in these Finals. And with all due respect to one of our favorites in the Association—Jimmy Buckets—Hollywood’s stars are too bright to be out-shined by anyone on South Beach.

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