The Los Angeles Lakers Deserve Your Respect
In the most unique and challenging environment, the Lakers reminded the basketball world of their championship pedigree.
“We just want our respect. Rob [Pelinka] wants his respect. Coach [Frank] Vogel wants his respect. Our organization wants their respect. Laker Nation wants their respect. And I want my damn respect, too.”
These were the words spoken by LeBron James after securing his fourth NBA title and his fourth Finals MVP.
Normally a man who talks to the media in a calm and stoic manner, he knew this moment was different. After conquering the mountain that was the Playoff bubble, LeBron knew he had every right to demand some respect from all the critics that have been hounding him after he successfully led his third different team to an NBA championship.
LeBron has always been known to have an amazing memory and this also rings true when it comes to the people that have doubted him, and there were a lot of last year because of his injuries and lack of success with the Lakers.
They said that LeBron might finally be past his prime after showing vulnerability in the previous season where he suffered a long-term injury. They said that Anthony Davis might not even be fully healthy for a full season. They said that their role players wouldn’t be good enough. They said that the Clippers were the deeper team and would be the favorite from the West to make the NBA Finals.
So, the 2019–2020 season couldn’t come soon enough, and it became a redemption season for LeBron as he sought his first chance at championship glory in Los Angeles. Trading away most of the young Lakers to acquire Anthony Davis gave the team an opportunity to contend for a championship now and this meant gathering reliable veteran role players to compliment the new superstar pairing of LeBron and AD. However, these veteran players also had a lot of uncertainty around them heading into the season. There were a lot of questions regarding how effective Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, etc. could be.
This Lakers redemption tour was headlined by LeBron and AD but everyone else on the team wanted to prove themselves as well, even the coaches and front office executives.
This desire to prove the doubters wrong was what kept this Lakers team motivated during the regular season and especially the playoffs.
The Lakers showed consistent defensive discipline, trust, chemistry, and adaptability and these were all on full display throughout their impressive playoff run where they had to defeat the Portland Trailblazers, the Houston Rockets, the Denver Nuggets, and the Miami Heat to win their 17th title in convincing fashion.
First Round — Portland Trailblazers
The first challenge for the Lakers in the playoffs were the Portland Trailblazers. They were one of the hottest teams in the bubble heading into the playoffs after an impressive run in the seeding games to secure the last playoff spot in the West.
Some people thought this would be a bad matchup for the Lakers this early in the playoffs with some thinking that the Blazers might have a decent chance at an upset. There was the concern of trying to stop both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum while also taking into account the return of Jusuf Nurkic.
It took some time for the Lakers to get into their groove which was evident in their Game 1 loss to the Blazers. However, like what every good team does, they were able to find the adjustments that they needed to execute.
Defensively, the Lakers did a great job trapping both Lillard and McCollum as much as possible to force any other Blazer to beat them which exposed Portland’s lack of depth. The Lakers also matched up well with Portland in terms of their size in the frontcourt starting two big men. On the offensive end, there wasn’t anyone from the Blazers that could stop both LeBron James and Anthony Davis as they both scored over 27ppg while both shooting over 57% from the floor.
Throughout this first round series, the Lakers showed suffocating team defense, proved that they can play well against a team that plays big, and just displayed their star-power with great performances from LeBron and AD.
Second Round — Houston Rockets
Coming into the second round, the Lakers faced the Houston Rockets who provided a completely unique threat to the Western Conference. The Rockets style of super small-ball (with PJ Tucker at 6'5" as their starting Center) allowed their superstar guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook to attack with so much space on the floor which would also lead to their reliance and proficiency in three-point shooting.
This troubled the Lakers in Game 1 as they lost another series opener. LA couldn’t properly guard both Harden and Westbrook and even with their small lineup, the Rockets matched up well with the Lakers in rebounding and points in the paint.
Unsurprisingly, the Lakers made their adjustments as the series progressed to effectively combat how the Rockets played. They were sending double teams to Harden as soon as he stepped inside their half to force him to give up the ball. The Lakers knew that their defensive rotations were good enough so that once Harden gave up the ball, no one had a clean look at a shot.
Another important adjustment the Lakers made was to match up with Houston’s small lineup by not playing both their Centers (Dwight and Javale) and instead start Markieff Morris to slide Anthony Davis to Center. AD at Center posed huge problems for the Rockets since no one was big enough to guard him effectively.
As usual, LeBron and AD led the charge offensively for the Lakers. Defensively, they demonstrated their adaptability by countering with their version of small-ball but with the bonus of including defensive Swiss Army Knife, Anthony Davis. The Laker defense was swarming as usual and made it difficult for the Rockets to work on their usual rhythm involving James Harden and all their three-point shooters.
Western Conference Finals — Denver Nuggets
In the Western Conference Finals, pretty much the whole basketball world was expecting the epic battle of Los Angeles between the Lakers and the Clippers. However, the Denver Nuggets overcame another 3–1 series deficit against the Clippers in the second round to win their series in seven games and would go on to face the Lakers.
The Lakers had their hands full trying to deal with the Nuggets two superstars in Jamal Murray, who has elevated to almost superstar levels in the bubble, and Nikola Jokic, who is one of the most skilled big men in the game today.
Needing to adjust to their new opponent, Los Angeles reinserted their Centers back into the starting lineup and rotation to match Denver’s size with Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap. Dwight Howard became an important factor for the team as he was assigned to take on Jokic and due to his physicality and athleticism, Jokic wore down by the end of the series.
The Lakers perimeter defense, shouldered by Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso all did a decent job guarding Jamal Murray and when it came to the final moments of the series, LeBron himself decided to guard Murray and was effective down the stretch.
The talent disparity in this matchup was too wide during this series, and it also didn’t help that the Nuggets just went through two seven-game playoffs series as well. LeBron James and Anthony Davis were mostly unchallenged both on the offensive and defensive end. Davis didn’t have a lot of problems guarding Jokic while Jokic could barely stay in front of Davis and Howard, and LeBron had no problem picking his spots during the whole series, making shots for himself and for his teammates as per usual.
NBA Finals — Miami Heat
The last opponent the Lakers had to overcome was the Eastern Conference Champions Miami Heat. The Heat were a fifth seed heading into the playoffs and were the first fifth seed to make it to the finals but they weren’t built like any normal fifth seed.
This Heat team convincingly beat the best regular season team in the East in the Milwaukee Bucks and made the league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, look as ineffective as he can be. They also beat the more favored Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in a more tightly-contested battle.
The Heat were tough, well-coached, and well-built because of their great shooters that surrounded their two superstars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Whatever they lacked in raw talent, they overcame with their toughness and grit which started from their leader, Jimmy Butler.
This NBA Finals became a display of how good Jimmy Butler actually is. His performances in the Finals have elevated him to a superstar-level, and the Heat wouldn’t have won those two games in the series if Jimmy hadn’t gone supernova and actually outplayed proven Finals performer, LeBron James.
Winning in the NBA Finals is never easy and this Heat team made things as difficult as possible for the Lakers. The Heat offense was filled with constant motion, shooters like Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder, and Kelly Olynyk were coming off of screens left and right for the Lakers to chase. For the most part, the Lakers kept their defensive discipline but the Heat’s fluid off-ball movement had the Lakers working harder than ever. Their defensive schemes were also pretty effective considering the lack of talent that they had with the injuries to Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic but eventually the Lakers proved to be too much for the Heat.
Despite their unfortunate injuries and lack of depth that came with it, the Heat went down swinging and showed that they were locked in no matter what the score or time was and they battled until the very end.
After Anthony Davis abused the Heat’s zone defense in the first two games by being a huge presence in the paint and by shooting great everywhere else on the floor, LeBron James took over the series with his dominance in the paint and his timely and effective three-point shooting while he still managed to get the Laker role players as involved as they can be.
With LeBron and AD leading the way, and the Laker role players like Rajon Rondo, KCP, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, and Dwight Howard being great in their roles on offense and defense, this Lakers team was able to defeat the Miami Heat in six games to finally bring home another championship to Los Angeles after ten years.
This road to the championship showcased the Lakers’ consistent defensive intensity, chemistry, star power (led by LeBron and AD), and adaptability. Every round posed a different challenge, and they finished the job each time while making it look easy (when it really wasn’t).
This playoff run revealed a lot of things about the Lakers: it showed that LeBron is still the best player in the world, that Anthony Davis can be a big-time playoff performer on both sides of the ball, that head coach Frank Vogel is a defensive mastermind, and that this team from top to bottom had great team chemistry, supported by their role players being stars in their own roles.
As they wrapped up this impressive championship run, LeBron and the Lakers demanded respect, and considering everything they had to go through from all the criticisms they faced throughout the season, to the unexpected tragedy they had to overcome early this year, and to probably the most difficult championship in the league’s history, they had every right to do so.