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.

DMX on the Madison Square Garden marquee

Madison Square Garden

For many managers, their playoff prospects are dark and hot as hell heading into the final week of the fantasy basketball regular season.

But before you can compete to be grand champ, you need to stop, drop, shut your duds down and open up the waiver wire for your last gasp this regular season. Here are some names you should be looking for to give you that push you need.

Rest in peace, DMX.

Booms

Kyle Anderson Forward Memphis Grizzlies

The former UCLA star might have taken the tale of the tortoise and the hare a little too seriously, but the "slow and steady" mantra has given him a successful NBA career and impressive fantasy numbers. For the past week, Slow Mo has averaged 16.3 points on 48.9 percent shooting, seven rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.3 made threes, two steals and one turnover a game.

Anderson has been a consistent contributor throughout the season and it's tough to see his numbers take a hit even when Jaren Jackson Jr. returns at the end of the month. If you haven't rostered him yet, it would be a huge mistake.

Jalen McDaniels Forward/Center Charlotte Hornets

Staying on the court has been a problem for McDaniels this season, but the absence of Gordon Hayward has forced the Hornets to look for other options on the court and the second-year player has been one of the beneficiaries. In the last three games, the San Diego State product averaged 16.3 points on 62.5 percent shooting, two made threes, five rebounds and 3.3 assists. He even threw in 1.3 steals and one block per game.

Hayward is expected to be out for at least three more weeks. Until he's back, expect McDaniels to continue his more proactive approach on this team.

Miles Bridges Forward Charlotte Hornets

McDaniels isn't the only one who has taken advantage of Hayward's injury. Bridges has cranked his game up a notch, averaging 21.7 points on 60.5 percent shooting, three made threes, six rebounds and one steal in the last three games. He may have even had the dunk of the year, posterizing Clint Capela on Sunday.

Until Hayward is back, Bridges will get a lot more freedom to operate and that means more fantasy contribution in the coming weeks.

Reggie Jackson Guard Los Angeles Clippers

Depth has not been a problem for the Clippers the last few seasons, but it has been trouble for fantasy managers looking for consistent contributors on that team. Rest and injuries haven't slowed the Clippers' winning ways this week because Reggie Jackson stepped up for them and gives fantasy participants a short-term high performer to lean on for the week.

In a week where Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Paul George missed time, Jackson thrived, averaging 17.3 points on 61 percent shooting, three made threes, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 turnovers in four games.

With Beverley out with a fractured hand and Rondo/George/Kawhi undoubtedly taking games off to save themselves for the playoffs, Jackson may not be a bad desperation option in standard fantasy and worth tracking in daily fantasy formats.

Busts

Tim Hardwaway Jr Guard/Forward Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks' recent success has not translated into numbers for all players. Tim Hardaway Jr. is one of them.

The Michigan product averaged 12 points on 37.5 percent shooting, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in four games last week. He did make two three-pointers per game in that span, but that is like threading a silver lining on a used rag.

Hardaway is still the third scoring option on the team, so he will get more chances to increase his production, but this week was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of fantasy managers.

Derrick Rose Guard New York Knicks

Rose has found a home with the New York Knicks, but his role has not been kind to fantasy managers. We all know the former MVP can still score, but head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn't asked him to do much else.

In the last four games, Rose has averaged 14.3 points on 43.1 percent shooting, 0.8 made threes, 1.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists. That kind of one-dimensional play is a killer of many fantasy teams looking for a more diverse portfolio of contributions.

If you need a boost in scoring, Rose isn't a terrible option to consider, but if you need anything else, you should leave him on the waiver.

Lou Williams Guard Atlanta Hawks

Like Rose, Williams isn't asked to do anything other than score at this point in his career. But even in the past week, he can't even do that at an elite fantasy level. Only averaging 11.8 points per game, 1.8 made threes, 2.8 assists and basically non-existent in every other category in fantasy sports.

It's safe to say that Lemon Pepper Lou's effectiveness as a fantasy star is gone.

Jusuf Nurkic Center Portland Trail Blazers

Okay, I know Trail Blazers have been trying to ease Nurkic back into the lineup and giving him restricted minutes. However, with the fantasy managers looking for that final push to the postseason, there might have to be an executive decision on whether Nurkic needs to be played or pitched.

Teams firmly in playoff position can hold out for him to be used properly again, but other managers won't be able to stomach another week of missed games and low-end production.

Bogdan Bogdanovic

USA Today

For college basketball, the madness is over. For the NBA fantasy managers, the madness is just beginning.

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Shane Bieber faced off against the Dodgers in Spring Training. He bested Trevor Bauer, allowing only two runs, and striking out nine

Getty Images

Welcome to the Mock Draft lab.

This is where we are running experiments, crunching the numbers, and proving hypotheses, so you can reap the rewards of our hard work. The rules for this exercise were simple: Take the best pitcher in each round without reaching more than 10 spots away in either direction. (This kept us honest and realistic as to who would be available and prevented any major overpays for talent.)

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