LeBron faces up vs Jimmy Butler

Lakers vs. Heat, Three Things to Know: Feb. 20, 2021

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (22-8) face their Finals opponent from last season, Miami (12-17), for the first time this season. Tip is at 5:30 p.m. on ABC, after the 1-hour pregame show on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know in advance of the matchup:

L.A.’s not-so-secret weapon right from the moment Anthony Davis took the floor with LeBron James was their ability to go “small,” with AD at the 5, without really being small, thanks to his dominance as a defensive rim protector. Whenever the Lakers needed their best group on the floor, Frank Vogel would go with AD, LeBron, and three perimeter players. Indeed, in Game 6 of the Finals when the money was on the line, Vogel started the game with Davis, LeBron, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso. They helped LAL outscore the Heat 28-20 in the 1st Q and 36-16 in the 2nd Q.

This season, when needed, Vogel often went to that same group, but with Dennis Schroder, Kyle Kuzma or Wesley Matthews in for Green. Without AD, Vogel can’t go to such a lineup, because AD’s unique skillset can’t be replicated by another player. The closest approximation in terms of a small ball five, Markieff Morris, can provide some spacing and isolation scoring on offense, but while he’s a good defender, he isn’t the rim eraser that AD is. And so, when Miami goes to its small group with Bam Adebayo at center, Vogel too can go small, but he can’t go to the lineup with which L.A. has had so much success until AD returns.

The Lakers and Heat entered the Finals in impressive style, each losing only three games within their conferences before facing off. But it was the Lakers who drew first blood, handily beating Miami 116-98 in the opener. The Heat lost Goran Dragic to injury in Game 1, and missed him as L.A. followed with a 124-114 Game 2 victory, as LeBron and AD went for 33 and 32 points, respectively. Miami rallied to win Game 3 behind Jimmy Butler’s 40 points, 13 assists and 10 boards, before L.A. went up 3-1 with a 102-96 Game 4 win paced by LeBron’s 28 points, 12 boards and eight assists.

Another big triple-double from Butler (35, 12 and 11) helped Miami hold off L.A.’s celebration in Game 5, as the Heat won 111-108, before the small ball group came in to start Game 6 for the Lakers, and they ran away with it.

Butler was consistently terrific, but the Lakers managed to limit the impact of much of the rest of the roster. In fact, Adebayo’s 15.3 points per game ranked second on the Heat, and the Lakers held shooters Duncan Robinson (40.4 percent) and Tyler Herro (36.8 percent) well below their averages.

After missing most of January with COVID-19, Butler’s been trying to get the Heat back to where they want to be, averaging 19.9 points, 9.3 boards, 9.1 assists and 1.9 steals in February. Miami has gone 6-5 since his return, as they continue to search for a consistent rotation amidst injuries (Dragic has played 17 games, and Avery Bradley 10), and key departures (Jae Crowder). Butler has triple-doubles in four of Miami’s last five games as he looks to get them back into the Eastern playoff mix, though they’re currently only 1.5 games back of the No. 8 seed.

Adebayo has taken a leap as a scorer, leading Miami with his 19.8 points per game on 56.9 percent shooting, plus 9.3 boards and 5.5 assists, up from 15.9/6.7/6.0 last season. Robinson isn’t shooting as well from three (39.2 percent) after he hit a remarkable 44.6 percent last season on 8.3 attempts per game, while Herro’s upped his scoring from 13.5 points last season to 17.4 this year.


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