LeBron James made his 10th Finals appearance Wednesday in his 50th game in the championship round.
It stands to reason James might be on this stage surrounded with the strongest cast he’s ever had. The reason? James might not even be the best player on the Lakers.
The Lakers, after a slow start, punished the Heat with a 116-98 win in Game 1 with James’ partner Anthony Davis racking up 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks in 38 minutes in the fan-less Orlando bubble. As part of the flock of virtual fans, Barack Obama was pictured in the Walt Disney World arena.
The Lakers posted the massacre without needing an early James domination as The King looks for his fourth title. James stayed in the game through much of garbage time and finished with 25 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds.
The way it’s looking, the Lakers might as well be handed their 17th championship trophy now so everyone can get out of the Orlando quarantine.
It was a complete Heat disaster as starting point guard Goran Dragic didn’t play the second half with a sore left foot and All-Star center Bam Adebayo left for good in the third quarter with a shoulder strain.
After being up 18 by halftime, the Lakers’ lead swelled to 32 points midway through the third quarter. Lots of garbage time was still left.
The gold-clad Lakers were fabulous from the 3-point stripe, finishing the first half 11 of 17. This was as much the fault of slow rotations by the Heat defense as eight Lakers drilled at least one 3-point shot. James’ nine first-half points were all that were required as the Heat’s noted bench had an off night.
Davis believes James’ fourth title would be his most satisfying after the one that broke Cleveland’s title curse in 2016.
“He wants to win very, very badly,’’ Davis said before Game 1. “To be back in the Finals against Miami, I think means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else. I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.”
At 35, James hasn’t lost a step in Davis’ eyes.
“It seems like he’s aging backwards and it’s because he takes care of his body,” Davis said.
It started all so well for the Heat, who opened a 23-10 lead with Jae Crowder lighting it up from 3 and James in quiet mode. Then it crashed and burned for Pat Riley’s fifth-seeded underdog.
The Lakers ended the first quarter on a 19-3 run as they scorched from the 3-point stripe. The Lakers led 31-28 after one and soon that early 13-point deficit was a distant memory. The Lakers put together a 13-0 mid-second-quarter spree and built their lead to 65-48 by halftime.
Miami survived a scare with 20 seconds left in the half when Butler drove on Davis and planted his left ankle awkwardly. He crumpled to the court and limped off. Butler, who had notched 16 first-half points on 7 of 10 shooting, returned for the second half with only a minor limp.
But Dragic did not and Adebayo soon joined him in the locker room.
Davis poured in 18 first-half points and sank both of his 3s. Though Dwight Howard started, the Lakers were better when he was off the court as it allowed them to spread out the floor.
Davis and James have been a Hollywood marriage made in heaven.
Davis has a chance to opt out after the series and play the field. Davis will likely want to either defend what they hope will be an NBA title with James or try it again next season with his new partner amid normal conditions — like with Lakers’ fans packing Staples Center.
“He’s always on me about things,’’ Davis said of James. “If he sees something, he’ll [say] try it this way. Sometimes I just can’t sleep, so he’s like, here, try my sleep app, the Calm app. He’s always trying to give me little hints of how to be better, how to be a better player and help my body.”
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