Anthony Davis and LeBron James have the Lakers in their first Western Conference final in 10 years. (Mark J. Terrill)
LeBron James believed he could win every time he advanced to the NBA Finals.
A couple of times, he realistically had little chance. His first and last appearances in Cleveland ended in sweeps, with the Cavaliers defeated by San Antonio in 2007 and Golden State in 2018.
In his 10th NBA final, he sees his first break with the Los Angeles Lakers the same way he saw his travels in Cleveland and Miami.
“The game is won on the four lines, it is not won on paper,” James said. “At the end of the day, when I lost in the final, the best team won because they played well, they were more prepared and did what they had to do to win those four games.”
This time, that will be your team.
With Anthony Davis alongside James, the Lakers are armed with the same kind of power they had when Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant led them to the first of three consecutive titles 20 years ago.
The top two picks for the All-NBA team, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, have combined for 60 or more points 20 times in their first season together, and the Lakers have won 19 of them. Now they are poised to win the Lakers' first title in a decade.
“Now we want to make sure we end this well,” Davis said.
James shows almost no fatigue at 35, tying his career record with four triple-doubles in these playoffs. He is averaging 26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists, numbers that no player has reached in his first 15 games of a postseason.
Davis has been just as dominant, hitting his career average in postseason games at 29.6 points per game. That average is second only to that of Michael Jordan (33.4) and Allen Iverson (29.7) among players who have appeared in at least 25 playoff games.
The Heat, with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler anchoring a strong defense, could control one of them. Nobody stops them both.
The Lakers' role players are very supportive of them, from playoff-proven veterans Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Danny Green to newcomers like Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso. Los Angeles is shooting 49.8% as a team, the highest in the postseason.
The Lakers are also limiting teams to 106.5 points, the third lowest in the playoffs, and the Heat could be the least explosive team they have faced. Portland had Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Houston followed up with NBA leading scorer James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and Denver boasted Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the top two players in total points in the playoffs.
Los Angeles eliminated all three teams in five games.
Once they did, thoughts turned to the right way to finish what has been a challenging season for the Lakers. A preseason trip to China turned turbulent following a tweet from Houston general manager Daryl Morey supporting Democratic protesters in Hong Kong. Bryant, an icon of the franchise, was killed in a helicopter crash in January. The coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a halt and forced players to be away from their families for months when it resumed.
Four more wins and the Lakers can go home with them.
“Every day since we've been in the bubble it's been like, man, this is a great opportunity. Make the most of it and stay in the moment, ”Howard said. “Even after we won the Western Conference finals, I wanted to say, okay, this is not just the goal of winning the Western Conference finals. The objective is to win the championship ”.
And they will achieve it. The Lakers in five.