This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
With Sunday night's Game 6 win over the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat officially punched their ticket to the NBA Finals. Awaiting Miami is the Los Angeles Lakers, who polished off the Denver Nuggets in five games behind a vintage LeBron James performance on Saturday night.
Miami's win sets up a Finals matchup between two contrasting roster builds. Both feature a physically dominant, two-way wing and a one-and-done Kentucky big man, but that's about where the comparisons end.
The Lakers enter the Finals with the best player in the world, and while he may no longer be operating at the peak of his powers, James is pretty damn close. His Game 5 performance – a 38-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist masterpiece – was his second consecutive triple-double and his fourth of the postseason, overall. Coming off of a couple of good-not-great performances, James issued a stern reminder to the rest of the league that he's still the Finals gatekeeper. For James, this will be his ninth Finals in the last 10 years.
Flanked by another All-NBA First Team selection in Anthony Davis, James and the Lakers have the two best players in the Finals. But does Los Angeles rely too much on its superstar pairing? If you drafted teams from this Finals matchup, James and Davis would go first and second, but the Heat – led by a much more balanced roster – might have picks three through seven.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat had six players average double-figures in scoring, four of whom – Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, and Jimmy Butler – averaged between 19.0 and 21.8 points per game. Adebayo, Dragic and Butler have been the core of Miami's attack all season, but the emergence of Herro, who went for 37 points in Game 5 and hit some key shots down the stretch in Game 6, could be what pushes the Heat over the top.
In theory, the Lakers have the athletes to slow down Adebayo and Butler, but it remains to be seen whether their host of hot-and-cold role players like Danny Green, Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, and Kyle Kuzma will be up for the challenge of matching Miami's relentless physicality for 48 minutes.
Before we get to the oddsmakers' take on the series, here's how the Lakers and Heat match up statistically in the Playoffs:
Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James: 35.0 MPG, 26.7 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 1.0 BPG, 1.3 sPG, 54.7% FG, 34.9% 3PT, 74.1% FT
Anthony Davis: 35.9 MPG, 28.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 57.1% FG, 36.6% 3PT, 81.0% FT
Rajon Rondo: 24.0 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 7.2 APG, 0.2 BPG, 1.6 SPG, 50.0% FG, 44.8% 3PT, 54.5% FT
Bam Adebayo: 36.8 MPG, 18.5 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 4.9 APG, 0.9 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 57.1% FG, 0.0% 3PT, 82.4% FT
Jimmy Butler: 36.5 MPG, 20.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 0.6 BPG, 1.9 SPG, 45.7% FG, 36.7% 3PT, 84.8% FT
Goran Dragic: 34.6 MPG, 20.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 45.2% FG, 36.3% 3PT, 81.4% FT
All odds via the DraftKings Sportsbook
For the fourth consecutive series, the Lakers open as heavy favorites. Los Angeles sits at -400 to win the series, while the Heat come in at +300.
For Wednesday's Game 1, the Lakers are installed as 5.0-point favorites and are priced at -215 on the moneyline (Miami +175). The total is set at 217.5 points, as of Monday afternoon.
In terms of the final series score, oddsmakers view the Lakers in 5 and Lakers in 6 as the most likely outcomes. A Miami sweep is priced at +7000, while a Lakers sweep is just +400.
SERIES CORRECT SCORE
|Lakers in 5: +300||Lakers in 6: +300||Lakers in 4: +400||Lakers in 7: +550|
|Heat in 7: +650||Heat in 6: +800||Heat in 5: +2200||Heat in 4: +7000|
TOTAL GAMES PLAYED
|Under 6.5: -400||Over 5.5: -150||Under 5.5: +123||Over 6.5: +300|
NBA Finals MVP
|LeBron James: -125||Anthony Davis: +250||Jimmy Butler: +900||Bam Adebayo: +900|
|Goran Dragic: +3500||Tyler Herro: +3500||Rajon Rondo: +15000||Kyle Kuzma: +15000|
|Jae Crowder: +20000||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: +20000||Duncan Robinson: +20000||Danny Green: +25000|
|Andre Iguodala: +25000||Alex Caruso: +25000||Dwight Howard: +25000||Kelly Olynyk: +50000|
|JaVale McGee: +50000|
Unsurprisingly, James leads the way, though Davis is close behind at +250. The gap between Davis and Butler/Adebayo at +900 not only illustrates oddsmakers' faith in the Lakers, but it also reflects the Heat's balanced roster.
If the Lakers win the series, the MVP will go to James or Davis. It simply has to. For as brightly as Rondo and I guess Dwight Howard and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have shone, at times, in this postseason, the gap between the Lakers' stars and their role players is immense.
Andre Iguodala winning Finals MVP over Stephen Curry in 2015 was a surprise – I'm not mentally capable of imagining what would have to happen for Alex Caruso or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to win it over James and Davis.
If Davis gets the best of Adebayo and averages around 30 and 10, he'll have a real shot. But heading into the Finals, the MVP is James' to lose. Barring the unlikely scenario that the Lakers win the series and there's a significant disparity between his and Davis' numbers, the award will go to James. Even if Davis were to slightly outperform him in the Finals, the Lakers are James' team, and the MVP would likely function as something of a lifetime achievement award.
On the other hand, if Miami can pull off the upset, any one of Butler, Adebayo, Dragic or even Herro could claim Finals MVP.
Looking back at the Heat's last series, Adebayo was probably their most valuable player, but it wouldn't have been crazy if a hypothetical Eastern Conference Finals MVP was handed out to Butler or Herro. And prior to that series, Dragic had been arguably the Heat's best player. Picking between those four is difficult, but if you're a believer in Miami winning the series, there's plenty of value to be had.