ORLANDO, Fla. — Lakers and Heat playing for the title of NBA bubble kings. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure we’d get here on March 11, when the season shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But here we are, four wins away from crowning a champion in the most tumultuous season of my lifetime.
When we kicked off the calendar year with the somber news of longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern’s passing and followed that up on Jan. 26 with the shocking news of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter GiGi and eight others, it felt like rock bottom.
All-Star Weekend in Chicago felt like a giant group hug, seeing all the usual faces in the NBA ecosystem doing their best to celebrate those who were lost and the best in the game this season.
The season felt rejuvenated after that.
But it didn’t last.
When Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19 shut down that game in Oklahoma City, you had to know things would take a dramatic change. But a four-month hiatus and then the social justice uproar in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, no one saw that twist coming and we don’t know how many more twists and turns there will be in the future.
The season restart wasn’t guaranteed. But the league and the NBPA pulled it together, a collaborative effort that saved the season. There were turbulent times along the way. There was a moment — when the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t take the floor for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic — when it seemed like forces beyond the control of anyone here were conspiring to bring an abrupt and crushing end to this season.
And yet here we are, on the cusp of perhaps another title for LeBron James or another for the franchise that helped him capture his first two. We’re talking about a potentially dream finish to what on multiple occasions felt like a nightmare year for so many.
it’s good to be here, no … it’s great to be here, to chronicle (with 24 Thoughts from each game) the finish to the longest season in NBA history.
It’s time to sit back and enjoy the games now, each and every frantic minute as these teams fight and claw for the right to be crowned champions.
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24 — This is a giant step up for Butler, who has been the most confident man in the bubble from the start. Anxious to see if the Heat can rise to the moment with so little experience on their side compared to the Lakers.
23 — These two … SMH!
22 — Tyler Herro out here making those of us who have been around the league for a few years feel absolutely ancient. Ugh!
21 — Pretty good Game 1 seats for the MDE (Shaquille O’Neal), President Barack Obama and Big Game James (Worthy).
20 — No jitters whatsoever for the “underdog” Heat early as they open up an early 23-10 lead on the home team.
19 — Things come at you fast in The Finals. One minute you’re rolling and the next, you’re getting rolled over.
18 — Playoff Rondo is a real thing!
17 — Most likely the first of many milestones for him in this series.
16 — Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Too soon.
15 — Age ain’t nothing but a number for Herro. Young fella showing up and showing out in his first taste of The Finals. But he’s getting picked on defensively. Lakers have spotted the target.
14 — Lakers doing just fine without LeBron on the floor. So you know what’s coming when he cranks up. Warning sign for the Heat down 57-47 with just over three minutes to play before halftime.
13 — Heat dared the Lakers to beat the from deep in the first half … and that’s exactly what they did.
12 — This is how you finish the first half when you flip the it from a 13-point deficit early to a 65-48 lead.
11 — Just the facts!
10 — The Lakers shooting 13-for-20 from beyond the 3-point line and Goran Dragic out for the rest of the game with a foot injury has a way of shaking up a team, even one as confidence as the Heat coming into this game. Lakers up 76-54 and showing no signs of slowing down.
9 — 93-67 Lakers at the end of the third and no Bam (shoulder) or Dragic for the Heat. This could get downright filthy before long if the Heat don’t start knocking down some shots.
8 — Not the news you want to hear about the player who has led you in scoring in this postseason. Kendrick Nunn, second in the Rookie of the Year race, is on in relief. But this could be a potentially devastating blow for the Heat.
7 — Pretty much sums up the night for Spoelstra and the Heat. Game 1 got off to that nice 32-10 start and rolled all the way downhill and into an gator-filled ditch down here at Disney World.
6 — Tough night all around for Herro and the Heat.
5 — Can’t do a Lakers’ win without some instant analysis from Magic!
4 — The Lakers’ 116-98 Game 1 demolition of the suddenly wounded Heat puts this series in a completely different light as we get ready for Game 2 on Friday. The status of Bam and Dragic will determine how much longer the bubble stays open for basketball business. If they Heat are down two starters … don’t want to get ahead of the news or anything. But it’s fair to wonder if the Heat’s bubble got busted tonight.
3 — AD looked super comfortable in his first Finals game, Finals MVP comfortable?
2 — I wondered how Bam would hold up agains the pounding the Lakers would dish out via this future Hall of Famer. Didn’t go too well for Bam.
1 — Not exactly the news you want to hear Heat fans.
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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