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Miami’s Wealth Of Shooting Presents Issues The Lakers Haven’t Seen In The Playoffs

The Los Angeles Lakers have enjoyed two-way success on the way to the 2020 NBA Finals. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and company have scored 115.6 points per 100 possessions, good for the best mark among teams advancing beyond the first round. Defensively, Frank Vogel’s team is also playing quite well, limiting three high-powered offenses (Blazers, Rockets, Nuggets) to just 107.8 points per 100 possessions on the way to a 12-3 record and a playoff-leading +7.7 net rating.

In advance of their matchup against the Miami Heat, most of the attention will inevitably be paid to James, Davis, and Miami’s star power — Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and even the resurgent Goran Dragic. That makes sense given the star-level performances that will likely be on display but, as usual in any playoff setting, it is exceptionally likely that a game, or maybe two, will swing on the periphery, with the Lakers needing to limit Miami’s supporting cast.

Much already been made of the gap in perceived depth between the two teams, with the Lakers deploying the two-best players. You can, from there, argue how many members of the Heat would rank about the No. 3 member of the Lakers in a “best player” hierarchy. Still, the Lakers are receiving quality supporting performances from players like Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, helping to bridge the gap when the team needs timely contributions.

In this series, however, the Lakers will face a challenge that they haven’t quite seen before. As noted above, Los Angeles has certainly faced high-powered offenses on the way to the finals, with Damian Lillard capable of just about anything in Portland, the Rockets attacking with a new-look, small-ball approach, and the Nuggets riding the red-hot wave of Murray and Nikola Jokic. Still, those teams were greatly centered on star power, with many of the Lakers’ supporting pieces able to hide away on lesser offensive options. Against Miami, that simply won’t be the case.

Yes, the Heat will deploy lineups featuring Andre Iguodala, who has never exactly been a sharpshooter, while Jae Crowder is struggling from long distance after a catching fire earlier in the postseason. However, Miami can and will deploy lineups featuring four high-end shooters and Adebayo, with the Heat enjoying a great deal of offensive success throughout the Bubble. Not only can the Heat put pressure on any defense with floor spacing, but Miami is tactically sound, running fantastic off-ball action and utilizing their creation wisely, running sets through varied players to maintain versatility.

As a shooting team, Miami has merely been solid, not spectacular, during their run to the playoffs and, honestly, that might be scary for the Lakers. Duncan Robinson is the only rotation regular shooting 40 percent from three-point range in the playoffs but, during the regular season, the former Michigan marksman made 44.6 percent of his long-distance attempts, proving a 40 percent clip is not a fluke. From there, Tyler Herro enjoyed a fantastic breakout game in the Boston series but, overall, the rookie is hitting a manageable 37.8 percent of his threes, a figure which can be seen as sustainable. Dragic, Butler, Iguodala, and Crowder all land between 34 and 37 percent, with Kelly Olynyk (who could be a weapon in this series if Los Angeles plays big) looming at 31 percent after a 40.6 percent clip in the regular season.

While it isn’t everything against a team that deploys Butler, Dragic, and Adebayo as players that can attack the rim both gracefully and forcefully, the Lakers will be tasked with limiting both accuracy and efficiency from long-distance. Los Angeles did allow Portland to shoot 37.9 percent from three in the first round but, in the same breath, the Blazers posted the second-lowest volume in the first round on only 30.6 attempts per game. The Rockets were able to generate 40.8 three-pointers per game in the conference semifinals but, given that they attempted 51 per game in the first round, Los Angeles was rightly lauded for their defensive stinginess. The Nuggets offered only 28.4 attempts per game from three-point range, with Murray famously limited to only 29 long-distance attempts in five games.

Against Miami, the Lakers won’t be able to fully sell out on shooters, and that could be problematic. While Butler and Adebayo are stars, they are not the heliocentric offensive forces that Lillard, Murray, and James Harden are, forcing Los Angeles into a different approach on defense than they’ve had to deploy during this run. Granted, Los Angeles has enjoyed success against just about anyone defensively this year, but it’s been a long time since they’ve seen an attack like what Miami will bring, and Erik Spoelstra is renowned for his ability to install adjustments and unexpected wrinkles during a seven-game series.

The Lakers are the favorites in the 2020 NBA Finals, and that comes with the territory for the team with the best net rating in the playoffs. Furthermore, Los Angeles has the two best players in the series and arguably one of the best players of all-time on their side. That is usually a good recipe but, after some impressive defensive performances, this should be their greatest test, as the Lakers can’t simply ignore supporting pieces in an attempt to throw extra bodies at superstars. This time, the Heat can put several marksmen on the court, making life potentially difficult for the likes of Caldwell-Pope, Rondo, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, and others.