Another LeBron Milestone
It feels like every week LeBron James breaks another statistical barrier, and when he steps onto the floor for Game 1 James will join Bill Russell (12), Sam Jones (11), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10) as the only players in NBA history to appear in double-digit Finals.
More consequentially, James will be attempting to do something no player in NBA history has accomplished—win a Finals MVP with three different teams.
Now, should James end up earning the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award I don't know how that's going to affect your all time rankings, especially if you're in the Michael Jordan is the GOAT camp. But should the Lakers win the organization’s 17th championship that would technically tie them with the Celtics for most in NBA history (some purists don’t include the Lakers' titles from their days in Minneapolis) James will have ascended to a level that's unprecedented and unbelievable.
LeBron’s Revenge vs. Pat Riley
LeBron possesses a plethora of incredible skills and attributes, including a memory that won’t let him forget any slight. If you remember James’s departure from Miami after the 2014 season, it did not go over well with Heat godfather Pat Riley. Before James announced he was returning home to Cleveland, Riley made some public comments about James and his impending free agency—“You gotta stay together, if you’ve got the guts. You don’t find the first door and run out of it,” Riley told the media in an obvious reference to James who was rumored to be leaving South Beach. The two reportedly did not speak until Riley texted LeBron before Game 7 of the 2016 Finals “Win this and be free.” James never responded.
Riley later expressed frustration and “tremendous anger,” as he revealed in a book released in 2018, over James’s departure to Cleveland, but ultimately understood it. Regardless, no one has described the relationship between James and Riley as patched up or chummy so even though James doesn’t need any extra motivation when his fourth NBA title is there for the taking, don’t be surprised if one day LeBron admits there was some extra oomph behind his performance in these Finals in order to stick it to Riley. Even if he’s denying it.
"It's no extra meaning to winning a championship, no matter who you're playing against," James told reporters at NBA Finals media day Tuesday. "It's already hard enough to even reach the Finals, to be in this position. If you're able to become victorious out of the Finals, it doesn't matter who it's against."
Anthony Davis, it should be noted, wasn’t buying it from LeBron.
"To be back in the Finals against Miami, I think, means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else," Davis told reporters at NBA Finals media day. "I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him."
Miami’s 2-3 Zone
Image via USA Today Sports/Kim Klement
Who knows how much Erik Spoelstra breaks out the defensive scheme that gave the Celtics trouble in the Eastern Conference Finals, but expect to see it—especially when James is off the court. The Lakers offense has been a much different beast when LeBron sits on the bench—LA’s offensive efficiency numbers take a dive without James’ playmaking skills—and considering how successful it was against Boston (and throughout their season) it would be shocking not to see Spoelstra unleash it.
If you’re wondering, yes, Miami used it against LA in their two regular-season matchups to varying degrees of success (the Lakers won both games) and, according to NBA.com, LA scored 39 points on 35 possessions against the zone in those two meetings. In the postseason, also according to NBA.com, the Lakers have faced zone on 30 possessions and averaged .93 points per possession, good enough for third among the 10 teams who saw zone for at least 10 possessions.
We all know the Heat head coach is the superior strategist compared to Lakers leader Frank Vogel. Vogel is no slouch and considered one of the better defensive minds in the NBA, but Spoelstra is in his fifth NBA Finals compared to Vogel’s goose egg. Miami has a decided advantage when it comes to coaching and they’ll need every bit of Spoelstra’s sorcery to keep the series competitive.