The Los Angeles Lakers will begin their first appearance in the NBA Finals since 2010 on Wednesday against the Miami Heat, who defeated three higher-seeded opponents to reach their first finals since 2014.
The Heat advanced to their sixth finals in their 32-season history with a 125-113 victory over the third-seeded Boston Celtics on Sunday to win the Eastern Conference finals, four games to two.
Miami was seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 44-29 record, the 11th-best record in the league. The Heat opened the playoffs by sweeping the fourth-seeded Indiana Pacers, then defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the NBA’s best regular-season record, in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I feel like we’re still yet to play our absolute best basketball, but along the way, we realize what we have to do moving forward, so we have to be near-perfect to beat the Lakers,” Miami forward Jimmy Butler, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season and an All-NBA third-team selection, said following Sunday’s game.
“We’re capable of it. But we’re not worried about no five-seed or one-seed. We’re worried about us and being the best Miami Heat team that we can be.”
The Heat has “had the underdog mentality this whole season,” Miami center Bam Adebayo said.
“When we get in these finals, anything could happen,” said Adebayo, who had 32 points and 14 rebounds Sunday, both game highs. “It’s a toss-up. Just going out and do what we’ve been doing, preparing and looking in and just keep building.”
The Lakers earned their NBA-record 32nd finals appearance with a 117-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday to win the Western Conference finals, four games to one.
The Lakers were the top seed in the Western Conference with a 52-19 record, the league’s third-best best behind Milwaukee (56-17) and the Toronto Raptors (53-19).
The Lakers won both games against Miami during the regular season, winning 95-80 Nov. 8 at Staples Center and 113-110 Dec. 13 in Miami.
The series will match Laker star LeBron James against the team he played for from 2010-14. One player on the Miami roster was a teammate of James, 40-year-old forward Udonis Haslem, who has not appeared in the 2020 playoffs.
Erik Spoelstra, who coached James when he played for the Heat, remains Miami’s coach. Pat Riley was the Heat’s team president when James played for them, a role he remains in.
Riley spent 18 seasons with the Lakers organization as a coach, player and broadcaster.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played Friday. The entire NBA postseason is being played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida due to the coronavirus pandemic.