NBA

Butler adamant Heat's best is yet to come after eliminating Bucks

By Sports Desk September 09, 2020

Jimmy Butler is adamant the best is still to come from the Miami Heat after they reached the NBA Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2014 by eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat came into the playoffs ranked fifth, making them the lowest seed to reach the Eastern Conference finals in 21 years.

The Bucks came into the playoffs as the conference's top seeds, but a 103-94 Heat victory in Tuesday's Game 5 secured a 4-1 triumph for Erik Spoelstra's team.

Butler certainly played his part in the series-clinching win, registering a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds after a shaky first quarter, and he was in a confident mood after the game.

When asked if the Heat had shown their best in the five meetings with the Bucks, Butler said: "No, I don't think so. I don't think we've played a full 48-minute game yet, and that what's promising.

"When we do lock in and decide to play from start to finish, I think the game would be a lot easier. I don't think it's happened yet, but we have to next round."

With regards to leading the team to the conference finals, Butler added: "It means a lot, but like you said, that's not my goal. That's not my guys' goal. It's not the organisation's goal.

"We want to win it, win a championship, and I think that's what we're focused on. These next eight are going to be much harder than the previous eight. We know that, but we're ready."

The Heat were boosted by Giannis Antetokounmpo missing out for the Bucks as he failed to shake off an ankle injury.

But Spoelstra was no less proud of his side, applauding them for their "journey".

"I want our guys to just step back at least for a night, if not two nights, and just reflect," Spoelstra said.

"It's not easy to get to the conference finals, and our organisation knows that. We've been trying desperately to get back to the conference finals. It's not our ultimate goal, we get it, but you can still acknowledge the journey, how hard it is to this point.

"That is why we brought Jimmy Butler here. That is why we put this team together with the veterans, adding Andre [Iguodala] and Jae [Crowder], building around Goran [Dragic] and Bam [Adebayo], having a young core.

"It was to try and do something in the playoffs. It's not easy to get to the conference finals. Otherwise, every team would be doing it."

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    The Miami Heat were up 22-6 in Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals, with one of the greatest teams ever assembled looking primed to cut their series deficit to 3-2 against the San Antonio Spurs.

    But any hope of a miraculous turnaround from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was snatched away as Gregg Popovich's Spurs went on a 39-15 run that turned the tide.

    Manu Ginobili's step-back three capped that 24-point turnaround, delighting a raucous AT&T Center crowd that revelled in the Spurs taking an eight-point lead into half-time.

    The star-studded Heat wilted thereafter and San Antonio's advantage ballooned to 22 points, the Spurs going on to claim a 104-87 victory that secured Tim Duncan's fifth NBA title in what proved to be LeBron's last game with the Heat.

    It was a triumph of depth over star power. That is not to say the Spurs did not have stars, as Duncan, Ginobli and Tony Parker were already established as legends in San Antonio and Kawhi Leonard would join them with his performance in the Finals.

    However, the Heat were favourites for a reason. Between four-time MVP James, a former scoring champion in Wade and a versatile jump-shooting center in Bosh, the Heat should have had enough to complete the three-peat.

    Yet the top-heavy nature of their roster proved the undoing of Miami, with Popovich getting a greater level of contributions from a deeper group of players and Leonard producing an outstanding individual performance to earn Finals MVP.

    Fast forward to 2020 and LeBron is in his 10th Finals. The Heat are now the opponents for LeBron's Los Angeles Lakers, with the series starting on Wednesday, but the situation - save for the lack of fans - is markedly similar.

    In James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have two players who were in the running for the MVP award won by Giannis Antetokounmpo but they are going up against a Heat side whose remarkable depth has seen off the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics for the loss of just three games.

    Jimmy Butler has been the star of the show for the Heat in the postseason and, while the expectation is that the Lakers will emerge with a 17th NBA title, Butler and the Heat look to have personnel to replicate the feats of Leonard and the Spurs six years ago.

    SPURS THWART BIG THREE

    James was at his brilliant best in 2014, as he led the Heat with 28.2 points per game, shooting 51.9 per cent from three-point range and 57.1 per cent from the field in the Finals.

    However, only two other players in Wade (15.2) and Bosh (14) averaged double-digit points. Ray Allen (9.8) and Michael Beasley (9) were closest to joining the Big Three in that group.

    That is not surprising, but there is clear disparity when you compare those numbers to what the Spurs put up across the five games.

    Parker's points-per-game average of 18 was well shy of that of LeBron. However, Leonard (17.8), Duncan (15.4), Ginobili (14.4) and Patty Mills (10.2) all joined him in double figures.

    In other words, the Heat had the most dominant player, but the Spurs had more productive options to turn to, and that could again be the case when LeBron faces his former team in Orlando.

    HEAT EVEN STRONGER THAN SAN ANTONIO?

    The 2019-20 Heat are the antithesis of the 2013-14 vintage, with their strength in depth critical to Miami seeing off the Antetokounmpo-led Bucks in five games and then defeating the Celtics in six.

    Indeed, the case can be made that they are even deeper than the Spurs of six years ago. Goran Dragic (20.9) and Butler (20.7) are each averaging 20 points per game in the postseason, with Bam Adebayo (18.5), Tyler Herro (16.5), Jae Crowder (12.3) and Duncan Robinson (11.3) all in double figures.

    Back in 2014, Parker was the Spurs' top scorer in the postseason with 17.4, Duncan had 16.3 with Ginobili and Leonard each on 14.3.

    In terms of pure scoring, the Heat are better equipped to deal with the challenge posed by LeBron than the Spurs were in 2014.

    However, the Lakers have the advantage of Davis playing on the same level as James. Davis (28.8 points per game) is the Lakers' leading scorer in the postseason, with James averaging 26.7.

    The presence of two MVP-calibre players performing to that standard heightens the need for a Leonard-esque performance from a member of the Heat.

    WHO WILL PLAY THE KAWHI ROLE?

    Leonard was majestic in the 2014 Finals. In addition to leading San Antonio in points per game, he averaged 1.2 blocks per game and shot 57.9 per cent from beyond the arc.

    The MVP came more for his defense on LeBron than for his outstanding shooting and, while Butler has led the way in terms of average points, the Heat may need to look elsewhere for a player who can replicate Leonard's impact on both ends of the floor.

    Andre Iguodala earned the Finals MVP in 2015 with the Golden State Warriors for his efforts in stopping LeBron and hit all four of his three-point attempts in the Game 6 win over the Celtics.

    Miami will need to throw multiple players at James and Davis to have a hope of slowing them down, yet the numbers leave little doubt as to who is the leading candidate to have a Finals performance akin to that of Leonard.

    Adebayo is shooting 57.1 per cent from the field, though that has all come from inside the arc, and has been dominant on the boards.

    His average of 11.4 rebounds is the fourth-most in the postseason and, while others will need to carry the load in terms of deep shooting, it is he who has the best hopes of excelling at both ends.

    The odds are stacked against Miami but, in a unique NBA season, it would be foolish to count them out. Six years on from their last Finals appearance, the Heat have the roster to pull off the upset and make sure that this time they are the ones celebrating a victory for strength in numbers.

  • NBA Finals: Two superstars versus a team - can LeBron and AD master Miami? NBA Finals: Two superstars versus a team - can LeBron and AD master Miami?

    A unique NBA postseason has thrown up an intriguing Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.

    With the coronavirus pandemic confining the league to a bubble in Orlando, Florida, there has been no home advantage and no shortage of shocks since the playoffs began last month.

    The Lakers - the top seed in the West - have managed to survive with their star power as Anthony Davis helped LeBron James to reach the Finals for a 10th time.

    In the East, meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Heat have also gone all the way, dumping out the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round.

    LA and Miami each dropped just three games en route to this series, which starts with Game 1 on Wednesday, but they have taken contrasting approaches to get here.

    Using Stats Perform Data, we take a look.
     

    Superstar Lakers

    The Lakers were not alone in headlining their roster with two massive names at the start of the season.

    As they traded for Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, rivals the Los Angeles Clippers put together a mammoth deal to pair Kawhi Leonard with Paul George. Russell Westbrook joined James Harden at the Houston Rockets.

    It would appear clear now the Lakers did the best business as they prepare for the Finals, having eliminated the Rockets in the conference semi-finals.

    Almost everything they have done has gone through James or Davis. Four-time MVP James has a 31.5 per cent usage rate in 35 minutes on the floor in this year's playoffs and is averaging almost a triple-double (26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists), while his team-mate has a 29.4 per cent usage rate in 35.9 minutes and 28.8 points per game.

    The Rockets rely even more heavily on their stars - Harden has 32.5 per cent of the ball in 37 minutes and Westbrook 31.3 per cent in 33 - but they do not have the same consistency. Against the Lakers, Westbrook shot four-of-15 from the field in Game 2 and four-of-13 in the decisive Game 5.

    The Clippers did not even advance to a highly anticipated meeting with the Lakers as George similarly struggled to set the standard, averaging 20.2 points.

    George's 10 points contributed to a Game 7 defeat to the Denver Nuggets, yet even their in-form pairing of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray could not match James and Davis, the league's outstanding duo.
     

    Deep Heat

    Miami will not look to put their own top performers up against James and Davis in the same way. It is the depth of this Heat team that saw them through the East.

    They remarkably have six regulars - Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder and Duncan Robinson - averaging 11.0 points or more. Miami are the only team to reach the Finals with such a wealth of scoring options in the past 25 years.

    It should come as little surprise to see this production, though, as the Heat - in direct contrast to the Lakers - share the ball around. Of their nine players to make 10 or more playoff appearances this year, seven have a usage rate above 16 per cent. Six have played 27 minutes per game or more.

    That provides plenty of opportunity for the fourth or fifth man to steal the show, with Robinson top-scoring in a win against the Indiana Pacers while Herro poured in 37 points in a victory over the Boston Celtics.

    Herro's efforts saw him break Dwyane Wade's rookie franchise playoff record - set in a first-round 2004 game - by a whole 10 points. Wade was the team's leading scorer in that postseason; Herro is merely fourth this time.
     

    How they match up

    So, which approach will come out on top? Well, there are also drawbacks on both sides.

    Having bet the house on James and Davis - comfortably their top two earners - the Lakers lack an obvious third option to throw at Miami.

    Only Kyle Kuzma (10.5) is averaging more than 10.0 points in the playoffs elsewhere on the roster, while each of the eight players besides James and Davis to play at least 10 games this postseason have a usage rate between 12 and 20 per cent.

    Meanwhile, the Heat have the third largest total salary in the league this season, operating above the luxury tax level, but do not possess a superstar comparable to LA's pair to take the entire series by the scruff of the neck.

    Even Butler has a marginally lower points per game (20.9 to 20.7) and usage rate (27.3 per cent to 24.7) than team-mate Dragic. Neither man might at this stage be ranked alongside those big names in the West.

    They will need help from Adebayo, Herro and the rest, while Frank Vogel has to hope James and Davis alone have enough to secure silverware.

    Regardless of their flaws, the outcome of this matchup will validate more than a year's worth of work for one of these teams.

  • Lakers' Davis ready to cap 'crazy year' with NBA championship Lakers' Davis ready to cap 'crazy year' with NBA championship

    Anthony Davis wants to finish a crazy year with victory in the NBA Finals as he hailed the resilience of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The Lakers and Miami Heat will go head-to-head in the Finals, with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday at Walt Disney World Resort.

    It has been a difficult season for the Lakers, who mourned the death of legendary guard and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant following a helicopter crash in January.

    The top-seeded Lakers, like rival teams, have also dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the league to be suspended in March before resuming inside the Orlando bubble in July.

    Preparing for his maiden Finals appearance in his first season with the Lakers following a blockbuster trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, All-Star Davis told reporters on Tuesday: "It's special.

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    "I think our team has been through the most this year, and we just kept on pushing, kept on fighting. With everything that's been going on, I kind of think the hiatus was actually good for us. It kind of just let us regroup because we had such a crazy year. The Lakers had such a crazy year.

    "Now we want to make sure that we finish this thing off right. Our team is a team that handled adversity this year.

    "We've been resilient. And now we feel like it's our jobs to finish the season off the way we wanted to start it, the same way we wanted to start it. We're four wins away from that, and it seems like it's all just come full circle."

    It will be a reunion for LeBron James and the Heat in the Finals after the superstar won two championships in 2012 and 2013 during his time in Miami.

    James – who also celebrated glory with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 – has the chance to claim a fourth NBA title and Davis said: "He's a guy who obviously when he played against his former teams, he wants to win very bad, very badly, just like everyone else does.

    "But to be back in the Finals against Miami I think means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else. I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.

    "I think this one is going to be a tough one. People said it's going to be the toughest championship in NBA history from a mental standpoint just because of the circumstances. But it's been fun to watch him. He goes to the Finals every year. Win or lose, he always comes back the next year. And to finally get back after last year and go against his former team, I'm pretty sure he's going to have a competitive series."

    Lakers head coach Frank Vogel also hailed James, adding: "He's the best leader I've ever been around, simplest way to put it, in terms of players. We've dealt with a lot, a lot of heavy emotional types of adversity that we've gone through, and he sets a great tone with his example.

    "But he is also a great leader from a communicative standpoint, talking to guys, talking to the group about the right mindset to have, to be in certain situations, being the leading voice when things occur where we're all not really sure how to deal with it or what to say. You know, he's been a leading voice in those situations. Just an integral part of our success this year."

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