LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Miami Heat, a long-shot title hope at the start of the season, have already exceeded expectations. The Los Angeles Lakers are still trying to meet them.
Nearly a full year after the 2019-20 season began, two teams remain. And the N.B.A. finals, which start Wednesday night inside the league’s bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., promise to feature a blend of styles as the Heat and Lakers grapple for a championship.
The Lakers, after trading for Anthony Davis more than a year ago, entered the playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference before delivering through three rounds. The Heat, seeded fifth in the East, have surfaced as a surprise to make their first finals appearance since 2014 — back when they employed a player named LeBron James.
On Tuesday, James reflected on the four seasons he spent with the Heat, a team he joined in 2010 when he was 25 and helped lift to two championships.
“I was still a kid and still trying to figure out who I am as a person and as a man,” he said. “I grew, and they allowed me to grow.”
Here are three things to watch in the finals:
1. Defending the guards.
Considering the Lakers’ rapid push to the finals — they needed just five games to eliminate each of their first three playoff opponents — it may be easy to overlook the fact that they don’t have their best perimeter defender. Avery Bradley opted out of the restart in July because of family concerns.
“No one says anything about it, and I’m glad they don’t, but what other team could lose their starting shooting guard?” the Lakers’ Jared Dudley asked. “Our best on-the-ball defender? But we’re still here. No one’s made any excuses: ‘Hey, next man up, and let’s go.’”
Without Bradley, the Lakers needed a collective effort in the conference finals to defend Jamal Murray, the Denver Nuggets’ dazzling point guard. Over five games, Murray averaged 25 points and 7.4 assists on 51.8 percent shooting. He was such a concern for the Lakers that James asked to defend him down th