It's LeBron vs. his old team (and Michael Jordan) in the NBA Finals
Lakers star can narrow the title gap in the GOAT debate
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The NBA Finals tip off tonight
This year's championship series features a lot of interesting characters and storylines for both avid and casual basketball fans. Here are a few things to know ahead of Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat at 9 p.m. ET in the Disney bubble:
LeBron James is back — and facing his old team. After a one-year absence when the Lakers missed the playoffs in his first season with them, LeBron will play in the Finals for an incredible ninth time in 10 years and 10th time in his career. He made four straight appearances with Miami from 2011-14, winning the two in the middle. Then he ditched the Heat to return to Cleveland and reached the next four Finals (all vs. Golden State), going 1-3 to bring his lifetime Finals record to 3-6.
It's also LeBron vs. Michael Jordan. Some basketball fans like to argue that LeBron is the greatest player of all time. Thanks to all those deep playoff runs, the 35-year-old has scored more playoff points than anyone in NBA history, and it's not even close. He also ranks third all-time in regular-season points — two spots ahead of Jordan. But MJ is the all-time leader in points per game in both the regular season and playoffs, and he also leads LeBron in the all-important category of rings. Jordan went a perfect 6-0 in the Finals and, as that '90s Bulls documentary series reminded us, James can't touch him in terms of cultural importance. Some of that might be out of LeBron's control, but the bottom line is that Jordan is still the GOAT. Though if LeBron adds another title (with his third different team), the debate will heat up again.
The Lakers have the two best players. LeBron was the runner-up to Giannis Antetokounmpo in MVP voting this year, and he has an MVP-calibre sidekick in Anthony Davis. The ludicrously skilled, unibrowed big man leads all Finals players with 28.8 points per game in this year's playoffs. LeBron is second at 26.7. Both are also excellent defensively when they need to be.
But the Heat have more good players. If you drafted everyone in the Finals schoolyard-style, LeBron and Davis would definitely go 1-2. But L.A.'s roster really drops off from there. Mediocre Kyle Kuzma (10.5 points per game) is the only other Laker averaging double figures in the playoffs. Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and former Raptor Danny Green are recognizable names, but they're just role players at this point in their careers. So in our hypothetical draft, the next four guys picked (at least) would be from Miami. Bam Adebayo is an elite two-way big man, Jimmy Butler is a fearless crunchtime scorer who also does a lot of the unnoticed things that help win basketball games, and veteran point guard Goran Dragic is averaging a team-high 20.9 points per game in the post-season. Plus, rookie Tyler Herro looks like a rising star off the bench. The ace three-point shooter scored a career-high 37 points in Game 4 of the East final and can carry the team for stretches when he gets hot.
Two Canadians are involved in the series (technically). Both are on the Heat, but it's unlikely they'll have much of an impact. Veteran big man Kelly Olynyk has seen his minutes cut from about 19 in the regular season to 12 in the playoffs. He's averaging six points. At least you'll see him on the court, though. Rookie Kyle Alexander appeared in only two games this season and hasn't seen any action at all in the playoffs.
The Lakers are heavy favourites to win. Miami's lineup is deeper, and it also has the edge in harder-to-measure stuff like toughness, team spirit and coaching (L.A.'s Frank Vogel is fine, but Erik Spoelstra is one of the best in the NBA). The Heat are also (sorry) red hot. Since entering the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the East, they've gone 12-3 — including a stunning five-game takedown of top-seeded Milwaukee. But the Lakers have been great all year. They had the third-best regular-season record in the league and are also 12-3 in the playoffs. Plus, having the clear two best players in the series is, historically, a near-unbeatable formula in the NBA. The betting line reflects that. Though it's moved a bit in Miami's favour, the market says the Lakers have around a 75 per cent chance of becoming champions of this very weird NBA season. Read more about the Finals matchup here.
The NFL postponed Sunday's Titans-Steelers game because of a COVID-19 outbreak. This follows yesterday's news that three Tennessee players (none of them stars) and five other team personnel tested positive. Another Titans player reportedly tested positive today. Luckily, no one has from the Minnesota Vikings, who played Tennessee on Sunday. But the NFL announced today that it will push back the Titans-Steelers game to either Monday or Tuesday to allow more time for testing. The league also leaked a memo it sent to all teams warning them to follow the mask-wearing rules and other health protocols or risk suspension and/or the loss of draft picks. Read more about the fallout from the Titans outbreak here.
The Genie Bouchard revival continues. For the first time since the 2017 Australian Open, the fallen Canadian tennis star is into the third round of a Grand Slam event. She battled back from a set down to win her second match at the French Open today. Bouchard is ranked 168th in the world. At 26 years old, she's unlikely to return to the heights she hit in 2014, when she made the Wimbledon final and the semis of two other Slams and reached No. 5 in the world. But she's having her second consecutive solid tournament after reaching a final in Istanbul earlier this month (caveat: the best players were playing in the U.S. Open at the time). Two other Canadian singles players can reach the third round of the French Open on Thursday: ninth-seeded Denis Shapovalov and 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez. Read more about Bouchard's latest win here.
Serena Williams' window is closing. She dropped out of the French Open today because of an Achilles injury, meaning she'll finish the year still one behind Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. With four of the world's top 10 players opting out of the French, this was a good opportunity for Serena. So was the recent U.S. Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a depleted bracket and played like someone well past her physical prime. Williams turned 39 last week, which is ancient by women's tennis standards. And by the time the next Slam rolls around (January's Australian Open), a full four years will have passed since her last major title. Whether she matches Court or not, Serena will go down as the greatest of all time. But it's looking more and more likely she'll have to live without the record. Read more about Serena's latest setback here.
It's a do-or-die game for the Blue Jays. After dropping their playoff opener 3-1 to Tampa Bay yesterday, the Jays are facing elimination in the best-of-three series. Game 2 was just about to get underway at our publish time. Toronto ace Hyun-Jin Ryu is the starter after getting an extra day of rest to recover from some soreness.
The WNBA Finals are set. League MVP A'ja Wilson had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces to a 66-63 win last night in the deciding game of their semifinal series. The Aces will face the No. 2-seeded Seattle Storm in the best-of-five Finals, which start Friday night.
Need a goalie? Good timing. The New York Rangers bought out Henrik Lundqvist today. Besides ending his 15-year run with the team, the move puts another Vezina Trophy winner on the free-agent market. Washington's Braden Holtby is also expected to be available when the signing period opens next Friday, along with 2019 Vezina finalist Robin Lehner. Other potential unrestricted free-agent goalies include Anton Khudobin, who just backstopped Dallas to the Stanley Cup final; Corey Crawford, a two-time winner of the Jennings Trophy for helping Chicago allow the fewest goals in the league; and Jacob Markstrom, who's coming off a strong year for Vancouver.
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