The NBA recently concluded its highest-scoring regular season in 53 years, with a total of 282,127 points and a record-breaking 20 players making 200 3-pointers. Despite this offensive explosion, two low-seeded playoff teams, the Lakers and the Heat, are currently dominating the conference finals with their strong defensive performances.
LeBron James on Lakers’ Defense
Both the Lakers and the Heat, veteran-led teams, played well defensively to grab 2-1 series leads in the second round. LeBron James, commenting on the Lakers’ performance, stated, “We’re playing the way we envisioned the Lakers. We always defend.”
Anthony Davis as Key to Lakers’ Success
The Lakers’ opponents have been shooting at just 41.3% in the postseason, and Anthony Davis is credited for this impressive stat. In the nine postseason games played by LA so far, Davis has blocked 37 shots and altered many others, playing with the defensive zeal reminiscent of his best NBA seasons, including the Lakers’ 2020 bubble championship push.
Miami Heat’s Defensive Focus
The Heat’s focus on defense has been equally crucial to their success. In Game 3, the eighth-seeded Miami held New York to just 86 points, demonstrating the team’s defensive prowess.
Off-Day Activities for the Heat
Before focusing on Monday’s game, the Heat’s players were encouraged to take a break and enjoy their off day. Some attended the Formula 1 race in Miami Gardens, while others went north to Sunrise to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning host Game 3 of their NHL playoff series.
Jimmy Butler’s Performance
Despite a right ankle injury, Jimmy Butler has been on fire for Miami, scoring at least 25 points in all seven postseason games so far. His shooting average in the playoffs is 56%, and 60% from the 2-point range. Butler’s performance has been compared to LeBron James’ championship run in 2012, where James had 15 games of at least 25 points.
Knicks vs Heat
Knicks’ Shooting Struggles
New York shot just 34% on Saturday, their second-worst effort of the season. Miami, on the other hand, shot 39% from the floor and 22% from the 3-point range in Game 3. The Knicks will need to improve their shooting to compete in Game 4.
Julius Randle’s Need for Improvement
In Game 3, Julius Randle had 14 rebounds but shot only 4 of 15 and missed all five 3-point attempts. Randle needs to improve offensively, as he has shot 30% in his playoff debut in 2021 and 35% in this year’s playoffs.
Butler’s ankle still needs care after Game 3, while the Knicks’ backup, Immanuel Quickley, injured his ankle in the same game. Coach Tom Thibodeau called Quickley “day-to-day.”
Pressure on Miami
The Heat must anticipate New York to be better offensively in Game 4, and the Knicks only need to win one game to restore the home-court advantage. Miami must not allow New York to regain momentum.
Warriors vs Lakers
Lakers’ Home Success
The Lakers have been dominant at home since March, going 7-0 in their downtown arena, including four playoff wins and a play-in triumph. They’re 16-5 since St. Patrick’s Day, winning 10 of 11 at home.
Free Throw Disparities in the Series
Throughout the series, the Lakers have shot 83 free throws versus the Warriors’ 39, showcasing their different offensive strategies. Golden State’s fans have complained about the referees, and the tide might shift if the Warriors can get to the line more or limit the Lakers’ free throws.
Both teams are healthy overall, but Anthony Davis’ health is the Lakers’ most significant advantage. He’s close to full strength after missing large parts of the past three seasons, even if Lakers fans hold their breath every time he falls awkwardly.
Pressure on Golden State
The Warriors have only overcome a 3-1 series disadvantage once, upsetting Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference finals before that 73-win squad famously lost to James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. They must rise to the challenge once more to succeed in this series.