By Ivan Saldajeno
AT first, we thought the NBA season will be canceled all along due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but here we are, about to witness a unique NBA Finals showdown.
No one has homecourt edge, so it is a fair game.
Also, maybe only a few of us thought the season will end with this Miami-Los Angeles Lakers match-up since many anticipated a Milwaukee-Los Angeles Clippers series prior to the restart.
But again, here we are. It is the Heat and the Lakers in "The Last Dance".
As the series is about to commence on Thursday (Philippine Time), let's take a look at some of the things to watch out in this showdown.
|A fourth championship may further establish LeBron James' case as arguably the best to have ever played in the NBA.|
However, since they have three veterans who have been stellar during the late 2000's until the early 2010's, this championship will mean a lot to their careers.
For one, LeBron James has emerged to become one of the greatest players of all time, but him being called the GOAT is a different story.
Looking to become the first player to win titles with three different clubs, James, who has already sparked GOAT talks, may further build up his case with a fourth ring, although having a losing record in the finals may still hamper his bid.
On the other hand, Rajon Rondo is one of the remaining old school point guards the NBA has, and him putting up impressive numbers in the playoffs even if coming off the bench as if he is still in his prime with Boston is a delight to those who have followed him, leading to discussions on whether he should make the Hall of Fame.
While I believe Rondo should make the HOF even without a Lakers title, winning it all this year will cement his bid to make it to Springfield, Massachusetts.
Besides, he may become the first player ever to win titles for both the fierce rivals.
And then there's Dwight Howard, who since making his previous finals appearance in 2009 has gone on a slowly downward trajectory career wise.
Now back in the finals, although as more of a role player unlike his iffy one-and-done first stint with the Lakers, Howard has a chance to silence his critics once and for all.
To sweeten the pot, Howard has a chance to win his first title in the place he first called home, Orlando, although not as a Magic superstar unlike their failed bid in 2009.
Miami has some veteran presence as well in Andre Iguodala.
Although already way past his All-Star self, he continues to be a key figure for any team he has played in due to his lockdown defense (queue in the 2015 Finals Most Valuable Player award).
However, in the Heat's Eastern Conference Finals clincher against the Boston Celtics on Monday (Philippine Time), Iguodala showed some glimpse of his prime, dropping 4-for-4 from long range.
While Golden State is already pondering on retiring his jersey, Miami may consider doing the same for Iguodala if he wins it all this year.
|The present meets the future down the paint as Bam Adebayo and Anthony Davis size each other in an interesting big man match-up.|
Although initially primed to become New Orleans' franchise player, he only led the team to the postseason twice.
Now as a Laker, he finally got to breach to the conference finals and eventually the finals.
And with some thinking that it is Davis who is carrying the team, a ring will cement his status as the newest face of the Lakers.
And then there's the Heat, a group of young guns who shocked the league by making into the finals despite finishing only fifth in the Eastern Conference.
While having to finish the season inside a bubble may slightly attribute to that, one cannot just downplay what Miami did.
The Heat came just close to sweeping no less than the overall top seed of the postseason, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the quarterfinals and also opened a 3-1 lead against another favored squad, the Celtics, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Miami took down three of the top four seeds in the East to make it this far, and "remarkable" may be an understatement.
Leading the charge is Jimmy Butler, who despite being a veteran also has his story only developing now.
Starting his career as second fiddle to Derrick Rose, Butler has become a bonafide superstar.
Taking some lessons from Rose, Butler rises to the occasion when needed, that is, in the clutch, becoming one of the game's top closers.
Speaking of closers, how about fellow veteran Goran Dragic?
While being in the league for quite some time now, the Slovenian gunner has been overlooked, and that is despite having an All-Star appearance and an All-NBA selection to his portfolio.
Dragic showed some brilliance down the stretch for the Heat this playoffs, and a championship will surely put more "flavor" to his emerging story as well.
And there's Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo.
These three have emerged to become possibly the next big things for the Heat, putting them in a position to become the team of the future if added with the right players.
But as they say, "Why not now?"
Bron vs. Spo
|LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra won two championships together. Now, they face off as rivals. J Pat Carter/AP (file photo)|
Maybe only a few thought the Filipino-American mentor will build a title contender like this without the Heat's former Big 3, James and recently retired superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
And now, here comes Miami's biggest test, LeBron, who "Spo" led to two rings with the Heat, and the Lakers.
Seeing this player versus mentor storyline makes this finals showdown more compelling.
Did Bron need Spo to win chips or is it actually the other way around? That is something we will find out starting on Thursday (Philippine Time).
A bonus: Spoelstra is 3-0 against Frank Vogel in the playoffs, but James was with the Heat then. So it will be interesting to see if Vogel can finally get the better this time now that he has LeBron with him.
From the lottery to the finals
|From being number 13 overall, Tyler Herro has emerged as a potential steal of last year's draft.|
Thanks to a new draft lottery ruling in hopes of at least minimizing tanking among bottom teams, the Lakers suddenly jumped to the fourth pick of last year's draft.
The Lakers used the pick on De'Andre Hunter, but he was later added to a trade package that would land them Davis from the Pelicans (New Orleans would then trade Hunter to Atlanta).
Miami used its 13th overall pick on Herro, who has become one of the team's clutch guys.
So in various ways, both the Lakers and the Heat really took advantage of the draft last year, and now, they are looking at the fruits of their labor.
Forecast: Miami will be a fun team to watch in the next few years, but for now, let's give it to the Lakers. Lakers in five.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Dugout Philippines.
Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno_