The NBA Finals are set to kick off on Wednesday night and will feature at least one team expected to make it far: the Los Angeles Lakers.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been dominating since the playoff season began, and their supporting cast has delivered when called upon. Players like Alex Caruso, Dwight Howard, and Markieff Morris have all stepped into bigger roles at different points in the post season, and the return of Rajon Rondo has given the Lakers another ball handler, allowing Lebron to play off the ball more.


The Miami Heat have continued to impress since sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round. Nobody outside of the Heat organization gave them a chance against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, but Jimmy Butler has always been vocal about the faith he has in his team to compete against anybody.

Jimmy Butler 'not surprised' with Miami Heat Game 3 win against the Milwaukee Bucks | NBA on ESPN www.youtube.com

Not only did the Heat defeat the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semis, but they disposed of them in just 5 games with the series never really seeming in doubt. Butler gives this young Heat team an identity and leader, but he has often been the focus of criticism as a locker room problem and bad teammate throughout his career. After Philadelphia was knocked out of the playoffs last season by Kawhi Leonard and the eventual NBA Champion Raptors team, surprisingly Jimmy Butler was not brought back for another run.

There had been speculation that Butler had personal issues with the 76ers' two star players Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons causing him to seek a new situation, but Butler had denied those claims earlier this year. Throughout his career Jimmy Butler has always done things his way, and his move to Miami seemed intentional. It was a team that needed a superstar and Butler was happy to fill that role for them. Erik Spoelstra is a championship winning coach, and that's exactly what Butler is chasing because he knows that being the best player on a championship team legitimizes himself as one of the league's elite.

The Heat and Lakers both missed the playoffs last season, but the moves each organization made in the off-season have brought them all the way to the NBA Finals just one year later. For the Lakers, they knew what they had in the duo of James and Anthony Davis. Veteran additions like Danny Green and JaVale McGee injected a wealth of playoff experience to the roster, while retaining important pieces like Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso gave them the depth they knew they would need for a deep playoff run.

Miami added Butler, but outside of that the only other player on most people's radars heading into the season was their young power forward, Bam Adebayo. Bam has developed into a star player for the Heat, earning an all star selection this year, and he now serves as the Robin to Butler's Batman. But the cupboard seemed bare in an improving Eastern Conference that included the up and coming Boston Celtics, the 76ers, and defending champion Toronto Raptors.

Enter Tyler Herro, Miami's first round pick in last year's draft, an enigmatic rookie who never seems affected by the pressure of the moment. We've seen Herro take and make big shots for his team all season, and that has continued through these playoffs. Not to be outdone, undrafted shooting guard Duncan Robinson spent much of last season on the bench, but when given the opportunity to get more playing time this season he didn't let it go to waste. Now Robinson has cemented himself in the rotation, and the pairing of Herro and Robinson make up one of the most feared perimeter shooting tandems in the league.

Spoelstra has done a phenomenal job with this team and has expedited the development of many of these young players by simply giving them more opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. It's been true championship coaching performance, as he will be making his fifth NBA Finals appearance this year, putting him sixth all time(!), only behind Gregg Popovich (6), Johnny Kundla (6), Pat Riley (9), Red Auerbach (11), and Phil Jackson (13).

On the other bench will be Frank Vogel, who had varying levels of success as an assistant and head coach in the league before landing in LA. The key to Vogel's system is defense, and the Lakers needed a lot of help on that side of the ball. The result has been better than advertised. Los Angeles finished the season as the third best team in the regular season in regard to defensive efficiency, and they, along with the Heat, have been the most efficient defenses in the playoffs (they are tied).

In a matchup that can be deemed the Blue Bloods against the Mutts, the two sides have a lot more in common than you might think. The defensive prowess of both teams was just mentioned, and both rosters are able to adapt to different types of lineups thrown at them. The Lakers showed in the Houston series that they could go small to defend the Rockets' perimeter shooters, and the Heat displayed their defensive versatility by locking down the paint against Milwaukee and then frustrating the Celtics' talented guards and wing players utilizing a rarely seen 2-3 zone scheme in the ECF.

Offensively both teams look to get to the paint to shrink defenses, eventually leading to passing lanes to open shooters. The attention that players like James and Butler draw when going to the basket has benefitted the spot up shooters on their teams. Both the Lakers and Heat have used this offensive strategy to bury teams and not allow them to make comebacks late in games. It's resulted in both teams flying through their conferences at a rapid pace. The Lakers have won every series 4-1, never really being tested by any opponent. The Heat have gone 4-0 (Indiana), 4-1 (Milwaukee), and 4-2 (Boston).

I expect that this series will be the first time that either side is really tested in this postseason. LeBron James seems focused and understanding of the fact that this may be his best chance at winning another NBA title before his historic career comes to a close. Next season will see the return of Klay Thompson and Steph Curry to the the Warriors, and the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant era in Brooklyn will begin. Not to mention the continued development of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in Denver and Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic in Dallas.

Jimmy Butler and the Heat play with a chip on their shoulder, and they like being overlooked and underappreciated. There's no doubt that Erik Spoelstra is going to have his team prepared for LeBron and will look to force him to take more jump shots and put him on the foul line instead of allowing easy layups. But something we know about LeBron by now is that he's a shark in the water, the apex predator in the NBA. He's finally got a group together that seems to be clicking at the right time heading into an NBA Finals matchup, something we haven't really been able to say since his time with the Miami Heat when he had Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh by his side hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

I look for the Lakers to get out to a hot start and put Game 1 away on Wednesday night, and at that point LeBron will sense the blood in the water. The experienced group of veterans the Lakers bring into the series should be the deciding factor. Guys like Rondo and Danny Green will be great complementary players when the Lakers need points, and the flexibility they have to match up on Adebayo will likely produce similar results to how they played Nikola Jokic in the WCF.

I LOVE this Miami Heat team, and I expect each game to be competitive and go down to the wire, so it pains me to say I do not expect this series to be. This Lakers team is built to win now, and with the way they have been rolling, I'm taking the Lakers in a 4-0 series sweep.

Paul George grabbing a rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals

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In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.

After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.

The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.

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Ben Simmons disappointed in the playoffs this season

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Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.

Offense being the key word here.

Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.

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The Lakers looked lost in the Valley

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The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.

After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.

LeBron James LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.

The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.


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