The final matchup is set. The Los Angeles Lakers will battle the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
After a four-month hiatus and questions about whether the NBA season would resume, basketball inside the bubble has been a success with no cases of COVID-19, and now the NBA Finals is ready to tip-off.
Many predicted it would be one of the two Los Angeles teams in the end, but it shouldn’t be a big surprise that the No. 1 Lakers are returning to the finals for the first time since 2010 with All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the roster.
The Miami Heat are the first No. 5 seed in NBA history to reach the finals, defeating both the No. 1 and No. 3 seed en route to returning to their first finals since 2014.
Both teams seemingly dominated their way through the playoffs, tallying an identical record of 12-3 in the playoffs thus far.
After the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant in January of this year, the Lakers feel the pressure to bring the championship back to L.A. in honor of Bryant.
The Lakers are looking to start off this decade the same way they did the previous two. In 2000, the Lakers won their first of three consecutive championships with Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant. In 2010, Bryant led the Lakers to their most recent championship after also winning the year before.
The Lakers have always held themselves to high standards, standing for excellence and keeping a “championship or bust” mentality. And who else in the league better to fit this standard than James?
James hopes to lead the Lakers to the organization’s seventeenth title which would tie the Boston Celtics for the NBA record, while on his personal quest for his fourth title, which draws a lot of similarities to Bryant.
James' 10 finals appearances are more than 27 current NBA franchises. James' appearances accumulate for 13.5% of all 74 NBA Finals ever played.
James said the bubble is the most challenging environment he has ever played in professionally. “The toll it would take on your mind, your body and everything else,” James said. "It’s been extremely tough. I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship.”
James knows not to take his opponent lightly, giving high praise to his former team the Miami Heat and head coach Erik Spoelstra.
“I’m not going to sit up here and act like I don’t know what [Spoelstra] is all about, because he’s damn good,” James said. “If not, great, because of his preparation.”
On his quest for his first title, Heat star Jimmy Butler said, “If you want to win, you have to go through a LeBron James led team.” Butler previously referred to this NBA bubble as a “business trip” and is why he didn’t invite family, showing his championship focus.
The Heat also have former finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who has now been to six consecutive NBA Finals and defeated James there three times. This familiarity may be used to the advantage of the Heat as they try to spoil the James and the Lakers' aspirations.
Despite personal successes from each team, the job is not done. Four more wins from either team are all it takes to accomplish the ultimate goal and the chance to take the Larry O’Brien trophy home.
Game 1 tips off Wednesday.