The Lakers and Heat are set to play in the NBA Finals on Wednesday. LeBron James will make his 10th Finals appearance, and this marks the Lakers’ first Finals appearance since Kobe Bryant led Los Angeles to a win over the Celtics in 2010.
The Heat last appeared in the Finals during the 2014 season, when James was part of the team. Miami has embraced the underdog role after defeating the favored Bucks and Celtics. Now it faces its toughest challenge yet.
Can Jimmy Butler & Co. get past the Lakers to win the title? The Crossover staff makes their Finals predictions.
Chris Mannix: Lakers over Heat in five
There comes a point when betting against LeBron James just becomes foolish, like hunting for leprechauns at the end of rainbows or believing scratch tickets were the path to eternal wealth. James has played in ten—ten—Finals now and only special teams have beaten him. The Spurs were the Spurs—in 2007 and 2014—the Warriors were a mini dynasty and even Dallas, in 2011, had a little team of destiny thing going for it. The Heat are very good, with Jimmy Butler a bonafide closer and Bam Adebyo a rapidly developing star But they are young—very young—at key positions and don’t really have anyone that can slow James down. Miami is a vastly improved team from the one the Lakers beat twice in the regular season, but L.A. is playing better, too, perhaps its best basketball of the season, with Rajon Rondo emerging in a key role and Dwight Howard turning back the clock. Miami will compete in every game this series. It says here they only win one of them.
Michael Rosenberg: Lakers over Heat in six
This is a good matchup for the Heat. Bam Adebayo can guard anybody on the floor, and Jimmy Butler is fearless and capable of giving LeBron James problems. The Heat also have more guys capable of going off for 20 points a couple of times—Adebayo,
Butler, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic—and so it would not shock me at all if Miami wins the series. It’s just very hard to pick against James and Anthony Davis right now. They are the two best players in this series, and they have been locked in for weeks.
Rohan Nadkarni: Heat over Lakers in five
La Spoelstra Nostra. Culture. The Godfather. The (More Recent) Block. We Got Shooters. How many more Heat platitudes do I have to throw at you? After sheepishly picking the Celtics in the conference finals, I’m going with my heart over my head for the championship round. (I grew up in South Florida, and I’m one of maybe six people who own a pair of Dwyane Wade’s “Biscayne” Jordans.) All of this means I’m picking the Heat.
Erik Spoelstra has never lost to Frank Vogel in the playoffs, I’m supposed to believe he’s going to start now? Pat Riley will come down from his plexiglass case of non-emotions and Armani suit-up as an assistant coach if it means taking down LeBron in the Finals. The Lakers were built to win a championship, acquiring top-flight talents in James and Davis and surrounding them with mostly veteran mercenaries. The Heat were built for the bubble, a close-knit group with a comical (and frankly, overwrought) dedication to the grind. This series is a clash of styles, both on the court and in the front office. The Heat have already knocked out the MVP (88 first-place votes, baby!) and the No. 1 seed in the league. I’m not going to fight them anymore.
Give me Rick Ross over Ice Cube. Give me Udonis Haslem over Wilt Chamberlain. Give me South Beach Riley over Malibu Riley. Give me the Heat over the Lakers.
Michael Shapiro: Lakers over Heat in seven
This is a legitimately problematic matchup for LeBron James and the Lakers, and we could very well have a 2004 Finals redux with an underdog Heat squad in place of the Pistons. Miami sports a deep collection of quality playmakers, and there should be enough size to at least battle Los Angeles’ double-big lineups. Coach Erik Spoelstra will likely lean heavily on the Heat zone. Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler should feast in the pick-and-roll against Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Miami is by no means a pushover as James pursues his fourth title.
Things could get shaky for Los Angeles, but their size and defensive upside should be enough, especially in a potential Game 7 dogfight. Davis is cementing himself as the next great Lakers’ big man. James remains near the peak of his powers as he not-so-quietly reminded us on Saturday night. The strangest playoffs in league history should pave the way for a thrilling Finals. James’s next ring will be hard fought against his former franchise.
Jeremy Woo: Lakers over Heat in seven
I was extremely tempted to pick against the Lakers in a third straight series for the sake of the bit, but I won’t do it. I do think this is going to be close. The Rockets were ultimately too small for Davis, and the Nuggets, despite the ascendant Murray-Jokic combo, didn’t have enough different ways to close games. On paper, the Heat don’t have a glaring weakness for the Lakers to exploit. Frank Vogel will have to be flexible in his approach at center, and his team hasn’t dealt with anything close to Adebayo’s degree of physicality in these playoffs. I’d expect Davis to take that matchup when it matters, despite his strange hatred of playing the five, which should be a treat. Miami will almost definitely wall off the paint and break out its oddly successful zone again in spurts, which will force the other Lakers to make threes. But at the end of the day, LeBron and Davis are the best two-man combination in the league, and they appear to be on a mission. If that’s not enough, what is? Miami’s resolve should extend this series to a breaking point, but it’s hard not to pick L.A.
Elizabeth Swinton: Lakers over Heat in seven
Neither team has needed seven games to win a playoff series so far, but the Finals may change that. The Lakers have the advantage in star power, but the Heat have proved tough to beat in silencing opponents offensively and relying on their balance of young and veteran talent. Still, the Lakers seem to be clicking at the right time with Davis stepping up alongside James. Jimmy Butler will likely make some noise in his first NBA Finals, and Herro is proving his value, but it will be up to the Lakers to wrap up an emotional season with the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Robin Lundberg: Lakers over Heat in five
I love the Heat. I really do. They play hard, are unselfish and are extremely well coached. And they’ve proved throughout these playoffs to be legit. So I don’t make this pick taking them lightly or to be cute. I’m just not sure how they’ll deal with the length of the Lakers or whether they have the bodies to keep James out of the paint. On the other end, Miami can certainly shoot but it doesn’t have those players (as big a fan as I am of Butler) who command the attention of the entire defense, like L.A. has already faced. Once the Lakers adjust, I envision their defense swarming and stifling them. Adebayo and what he can do to slow down both of L.A.’s superstars is probably the biggest wild card, but overall, I think the Lakers will be too much. And I don’t see LeBron losing to his former team.
Melissa Rohlin: Lakers over Heat in five
The Lakers are in their sweet spot. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have perfected a reciprocal on-court relationship in which they alternate taking over in stretches and quarters. They’ve done this seamless dance throughout the playoffs, covering for each other as though they’re passing an invisible baton back and forth. That coupled with the way Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and other reserves have stepped up makes the Lakers unstoppable. The Lakers breezed through each of their first three series in five games, and I don’t see anything changing that this time around. The Lakers are a handful of games away from their first title in 10 years.
Shandel Richardson: Lakers over Heat in five
The Heat had a nice run behind Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but this is James’s chance to solidify his legacy among the league’s greatest players. He won’t be denied as he inches closer to Michael Jordan’s GOAT status.
Ben Pickman: Lakers over Heat in six
There’s no doubt that the Heat have both the roster talent and depth to beat the Lakers. Five times throughout the Eastern Conference finals, at least five Heat players scored in double figures, the lone time without five double-digit scorers coming in Game 4, which was still a Heat win. But more than just having a plethora of scoring options, Miami’s wing depth will also make a major difference on the defensive end of the floor, where the Heat have a number of wings to throw at LeBron James, including Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill, Butler and Adebayo. Still, with how James has played in recent rounds (and recent playoffs) it’s fair to question just how consistently any of those players will be able to contain the four-time MVP.
How the Heat handle Anthony Davis might also have more of an impact on the series’ result. Adebayo will likely spend the majority of the time guarding AD man to man, and you can expect the Heat to play a healthy serving of zone to try to bait the Lakers’ inconsistent shooters into firing from three and not feeding AD inside. But if Adebayo gets into foul trouble, who else will guard AD? Kelly Olynyk? Meyers Leonard? That’s a potential mismatch as the series progresses. The Lakers have the series’ two best individual players and a core that is at times inconsistent, but has also made timely plays on both ends.