2020 NBA Finals Preview

Did you know that LeBron James used to play for the Miami Heat?

Jim Rome
September 30, 2020 - 9:47 am
LeBron James and Jimmy Butler

USA Today

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Hey – did you know that LeBron James used to play for the Miami Heat? And now he’s playing them in the Finals. Talk about the ultimate HASHTAG REVENGE SERIES, right? Wrong.

Are you telling me that LeBron James is going to work even harder to beat the Miami Heat than he would’ve worked to beat the Boston Celtics? Of course not.

As he said yesterday: "It's no extra meaning to winning a championship, no matter who you're playing against. 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."

If the Lakers win four of the next seven games, the reward of the championship is going to be the reward of the championship. It’s going to be about the mental and psychological battle that they went through in the bubble to win a title. It’s going to be about the fact that they survived a 4 ½ month hiatus and then nearly three months in the bubble to win a title.

As he explained: "It's probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through. But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it's been extremely tough. But I'm here for one reason and one reason only, and that's to compete for a championship."

And I really doubt that title would feel any less special if it came against the Celtics than against the Heat. Besides, for everyone wanting to make this into some sort of REVENGE SERIES, does this sound like a guy with an ax to grind with Pat Riley?

"When I hear Pat Riley, I think about one of the greatest minds probably this game has ever had. He's won at every level. I saw the stat the other day that he's been part of a championship in four decades. This league is not the same without Riles. He's a great guy, great motivator, someone that just knows what it takes to win, and he's shown that over the course of -- what -- 40 years.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t get the sense that LeBron and Pat are friends and that this is a reunion of old buddies. Things did not end well in Miami. And both guys want to absolutely destroy the other guy in this series, but Riley wanted to do that to Boston in the last series and LeBron wants to do that to anyone who’s in the path of another ring.

It’s really easy for people to get all worked up about motivation in a series when the motivation is simple – winning a title. And going through whoever is standing between you and the ring: that’s the thing: the ring really is the thing, not who you beat to get it.  Believe that.

And then there was what LeBron had to say about Erik Spoelstra: “If you watch the Miami Heat, no matter who's on the floor, they're going to play Heat culture. They're going to play hard. They're going to play together. That's what he's always been about. It's been you guys that have changed the narrative or has never given Spo his respect because he had D-Wade or he had myself or he had Bosh. But a lot of coaches have talent. … It’s unfortunate that he hasn't gotten his respect. Every time we talked about Spo when I was there and we talked about how great he prepared us, and we talked about how great it was playing for Spo and things of that nature, you guys always said, ‘Well, you have LeBron, you have D-Wade, you have Bosh. Any coach can do it. No, any coach can't do it. If any coach could do it, then there would be a lot more champions in this league.”

And that brings me to my next point. I’m not interested in hearing from anyone who is saying that this playoff run has proven how great Erik Spoelstra is as a head coach. And that this playoff run has validated him and shows that he’s a Hall of Fame coach. Because what you’re saying when you say that is that you don’t know basketball.

Of course Erik Spoelstra is a great coach. Anyone who knows the game has known that for years. And if you’re just realizing that now, you better apologize to him. Because he’s been great for years. That’s just a fact.

What are you looking for in a head coach? Are you looking for player development? Because Spoelstra has that. Are you looking for culture and identity? He’s got that by the truckload. Are you looking for great ATO plays? Check. Are you looking for someone who commands authority and yet doesn’t make it about him? He’s got that too.

When you make a list of NBA head coaches who matter, guys who can win you a game on their own, guys who can beat you with theirs, but also take yours and beat you with them too, that list is very short. And Erik Spoelstra is on it. And he’s been on it for years.

But if you really want to make lists, I’ll make you a list.

How many other guys in the league would you describe as great coaches? How many other guys in the league in the last 50 years would you describe as great coaches?

In the last half century, here’s the list of coaches who have been to the Finals more than Erik Spoelstra and they are all one syllable guys: Phil, Pat, Pop. That’s the list. Phil, Pat, Pop, and Spo. 

So don’t come in here and try to tell me that getting this Heat to the Finals is some sort of validation of Spoelstra. He’s been validated for years. He’s in the club.

So this series isn’t about that, just like it’s not about LeBron allegedly getting revenge on a team that has almost nobody left from when he played there. It’s about the fact that Miami is incredibly tough to beat. They don’t beat themselves. They can play fast, but you know they’re probably thinking about slowing down the Lakers and making LA beat them in the halfcourt. Force LA to make shots. Because the Heat do a tremendous job of defending the perimeter. 

It’s about the fact that if you go to sleep defensively, Miami has a line of guys who can beat you from deep. And these aren’t guys who get hot, they walk into the gym and they’re hot. And they can throw a lot of bodies at LeBron.

At the same time, Miami is running into a Lakers team with a ton of size. LA has a lot of bodies they can throw around, and they’re pretty big bodies. LA is much bigger than Boston. Their perimeter defense, even without Avery Bradley, is still pretty damn good.

And they have Anthony Davis. Referring to a player as a “problem” has become a cliché, but Anthony Davis is a problem. He’s a big problem.

And in addition to that, the Lakers have LeBron James. And did you know he used to play for Miami?

I respect the hell out of the heat. And I expect them to compete. Hard. Every time down the floor. On both ends.  And they’re going to be a tough, tough out. But the Lakers will get a done.  He may be 17 years in, he may not be what he used to be; but he’s pretty damn close, and when he needs to be, he’s still the best in the world; and there’s no way LeBron gets this close and doesn’t finish. No way he gets this close and lets his team lose. No way he gets this close to a fourth chip and doesn’t cash it. Lakers in 6.