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NBA Finals: LeBron James, Lakers Defeat Heat 4-2

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Reaction and analysis as the NBA season concludes.

NBA: Finals-Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of this is going to be praising LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the other Lakers, but first things first, let’s tip our cap to the Miami Heat. We’ve had our fun making jokes about Jimmy Butler on this site, but man, that guy is a legitimate superstar. He’s not a fringe top-15 guy or just a normal star, he is a legitimate superstar. He went toe-to-toe with LeBron freaking James in the NBA Finals. There are only a handful of guys who can say they’ve done that.

Beyond Jimmy, the Heat really earned my respect overall. It’s easy to mock monikers like “Heat Culture,” but it’s legit. If they want to, they’re going to be able to lure a whale of a free agent within the next few years. Maybe that’s Giannis, maybe it’s not, but Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley have proven that what they’re building works.

As much as Minnesota Timberwolves fans and, well, every non-Laker fan in the world may hate it, last night was about the Los Angeles Lakers. What they did was incredible. I’m not sure I’ve seen an NBA team put together a defensive performance like they did last night in a long, long time. Miami scored 36 points in the entire first half, and nearly all of those points were brutally difficult to come by.

We’ll get to LeBron in a minute, but man, Anthony Davis is a truly generational defensive presence. The way he was able to simultaneously take away the roller on a PnR AND then contest/block the layup/floater of the ball-handler last night was incredible.

That doesn’t even mention who he is on the offensive end. I’ll admit, I was a bit unsure of Anthony Davis coming into the season, and even coming into the playoffs. You could tell he was great, but it just felt like something was missing. Well, what happened in the postseason is he stopped missing pretty much any jump shot.

I don’t know where Anthony Davis ranks among players in the league. I think he’s certainly top-5. He’s proven to be the best defensive player in the NBA, and in his current situation where he’s able to play off of LeBron on offense, he just might be the second-best player in the league. He’s as good as they come as a play-finisher. At the very least, the Lakers had the two best players in the playoffs.

Of course, most of the storylines will be about LeBron James, and why wouldn’t they be? It’s clear he’s still the best player in the world, even as he’s about to turn 36 years old with a truly insane workload on his resume. I’m not interested in the GOAT debate. I know who I think is the best player of all time, and I’m sure you all have your opinions too. The first person to change their mind on this one over meaningful discussion will be the first. You’re missing the forest for the trees by participating in that debate.

The reality is James now has won his 4th ring. He won Finals MVP again because he was simply the best player on the floor for the entirety of the series. Butler is a superstar, but the difference between a regular superstar like Butler and the King is that he followed up his insane Game 5 performance with another superb outing to shut the door. James finished the series with a 29.8/11.8/8.5 line. He shot 59% from the floor and 39% from three for the series.

To attempt to put some of that into context, James has now played over 11k more minutes in his career than Jordan did, and his still the best player in the world. That’s basically three full seasons of minutes (reg season + playoffs). I make that comparison only to point out how ridiculous that longevity is.

Also, as much as James has surely helped Davis out, Davis is going to help LeBron. As LeBron fades into the twilight of his career, I can’t think of a much better situation for him than being able to lean on Anthony freaking Davis. If someday James does become mortal physically, settling in as the best passer in the league and scoring loser to 20-22ppg isn’t all that bad when you have Davis alongside you. It’s going to be a bloodbath these next few years, and who knows what’s going to happen with someone like Giannis, but I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all to look at the landscape of the league and think James has a real shot to get to 6 rings.

*Quick note: R.I.P. to the “3-6 Mafia” nickname for LeBron fans. That was truly one of the funniest nicknames I’ve ever heard for a fanbase, even as a member of said fanbase.

I’ve also seen the idea that the Lakers road to the Finals was easy. I disagree. The Kevin Durant-era Warriors have warped our perception of what good playoff teams and Finals contenders look like. I loved this season, mainly because it was a battle among several teams with two stars and solid supporting casts. Are either of these teams better than the Durant Warriors? No, obviously not, but under normal conditions this is what regular Finals contenders look like.

Where does the league go from here? Well, barring something drastic and unexpected this offseason, I’d expect we get something similar next year. There will be a lot of really, really good teams who all believe they have a shot to win the title, and they’ll be right. Barring a Giannis trade (not happening), the league will see a similar amount of parity next season.

As we close the door on what was a truly one-of-a-kind season for so many reason, all eyes now turn to our Minnesota Timberwolves. In a big game of chess, the next move is Gersson Rosas’, and it will shape not only the Timberwolves, but potentially the league for years to come. It’s been a pleasure interacting with all of you this year. I’ll be anxiously waiting for the dominoes of the 2020 offseason to fall right along with you.