SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Mark Medina says that a Lakers’ championship would be one of the storied franchise’s greatest after a year of adversity.
The NBA bubble playoffs are nearing their conclusion, and the Los Angeles Lakers have their sights set on the NBA championship.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company take a 3-1 lead on the Miami Heat into Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ABC). When presented with a chance to end a series in these playoffs, the Lakers have capitalized, closing out their first three opponents in Game 5.
The Lakers believe they have a secret weapon in their Kobe Bryant-inspired “Black Mamba” City Edition uniforms. They are 4-0 this postseason wearing them.
“If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, then we can remain undefeated,” Davis said Thursday.
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The Heat have not faced an elimination game this postseason and had not trailed in a series before the Finals. They know they face long odds to come all the way back and win the series. However, they remain as confident as ever.
“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Jimmy Butler said. “I think it’s just win. Ain’t nobody thinking about going home over here.”
In need of one more win to clinch a record-tying 17th championship, can the Lakers close out the Heat? Or will Miami stay alive and extend the series? Here are three keys to watch in Game 5:
The Lakers really took control of Game 4 with their defense in the second half, and a major part of that was Davis guarding Butler. Without injured Goran Dragic, Butler has had to take over as Miami’s lead play-maker. Davis and his 7½-foot wingspan make that a nightmare, especially when he has the quickness to stay with Butler on the perimeter. Davis likely won’t guard Butler the entire game, but if he does down the stretch again, the Heat could struggle to score when they need to.
SportsPulse: This is why the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis. After another strong performance from their big man in Game 4, Los Angeles is one win away from clinching its first title since 2010.
LeBron vs. AD
If a Lakers title coronation is coming like most expect, the biggest debate is over Finals MVP. James is averaging 26.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists with 54.5% shooting, while Davis is averaging 28.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks on 57.8% shooting. James has been more consistent in the series while Davis had a subpar outing in Game 3. Still, a huge performance by Davis in a closeout game could potentially close the gap for Finals MVP.
Dragic’s injury has left a huge hole in the Heat offense. He was their leading playoff scorer and steadiest play-maker coming into the Finals. Butler has filled the go-to role, but he needs more help. Tyler Herro is averaging 17.3 points in the Finals, but he’s shooting just 37.9%. Duncan Robinson, who averaged 13.5 points with 44.6% shooting from 3-point range during the regular season, is struggling with 9.8 points in the Finals on 34.5% shooting overall and 30.8% from 3-point range. The Heat’s role players have to supplement Butler better if they want any shot to win Game 5.
Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.