By defeating the Miami Heat in six games in the 2019-20 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers won the 17th title in their franchise’s history, tied with the Boston Celtics for the most by an NBA team ever.
This season’s L.A. team probably won’t be remembered for their play, nor did they get tested along the way by the two other prohibitive favorites this year – the Milwaukee Bucks or Los Angeles Clippers – but they will always be remembered as the bubble champions, making it fitting that in a year like 2020 the champion is the team surviving by grinding it out, doing the basic stuff and not shooting themselves in the foot.
We could all learn a lesson from that.
Below, we break down the top reasons why the Lakers, led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, won the 2019-20 NBA championship.
THEY HAD A DUO FOR THE AGES…
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect tandem than the one the Lakers have currently with James and Davis, two of the best players at their positions who have also meshed perfectly and seldom get in each other’s ways.
James and Dwyane Wade/James and Kyrie Irving were elite duos in their own right, but they had more of a your-turn-my-turn style of play which sometimes bogged down in important situations.
James and Davis, on the other hand, have formed one of the most productive pick-and-roll tandems basketball has ever seen, and considering how James is aging (magnificently), they’ll likely be leading the Lakers to a whole lot of wins for years to come.
According to our research, James and Davis just had the third-most statistically dominant playoff run of any title-winning duo ever, trailing just Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2000-01 and Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1979-80.
We combined the sum of average points, average rebounds, average assists, average blocks and average steals by the two best players from every team who won a title to figure that out. You can look at the numbers for yourself:
And if we look at the top statistical duos for any playoff run and not just those that won titles, Davis and James still rank ninth, third if we only look at duos that played post the NBA/ABA merger:
To win a title, depth is important, but when you have a duo as outstandingly dominant as James and Davis, you’re going to have a great chance to win it all every year.
THEIR CHEMISTRY WAS GREAT…
Kudos to head coach Frank Vogel, general manager Rob Pelinka and the Lakers’ team as a whole, because if before the season we told you a roster with Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee and Markieff Morris on it, with Jason Kidd as an assistant coach on the staff, would hold together this wonderfully behind the scenes, you wouldn’t have believed us.
But they did just that, displaying by far the best chemistry of any of the top contenders this year, which is an underrated reason why they were able to go home with the championship trophy.
There wasn’t even a hint of locker-room turmoil all year out of the Lakers, not even when players saw their playing time reduced or when certain guys were asked to change their roles with the team.
It was the exact opposite of how things went with the Los Angeles Clippers this year, who had the talent to make a title run, but didn’t have the right blend of personalities to do so. We’ll see if changing head coaches and tweaking the roster is enough to change that next season.
Nevertheless, it would have been difficult for anyone to beat the Lakers this year, particularly with how well James and Davis meshed on and off the court. James talked to the media some about that right before the Finals (via USA Today):
“We’re not jealous of each other,” James said. “In professional sports, you have guys that join forces – call them two Alpha males, two guys that have been dominant in a specific sport on their own respective teams – they get together and talk about how dominant they can be, and they talk about it’s going to be this and that. I believe jealousy creeps in a lot, and that is the absolute contrary of what we are. We know who we are. We know what we’re about, and we want the best, seriously, every single day on and off the floor for one another. … Jealousy and envy have killed a lot of great things, not only in sports but in general.”
It’s rare to see two basketball Alphas perform so well and get along so well together, but James and Davis knew that to win a title, they needed each other, so they put aside all petty nonsense that could have sprung up this season and got to work.
And they earned a title for their efforts.
THEY DID THEIR JOBS…
Coming into the 2020 playoffs, three teams were seen as potential title favorites: the Lakers, Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks.
They all possessed the top-end talent and had respectable enough depth to make the requisite push for a championship, and seeing any of those three teams reach the Finals would not have been surprising whatsoever.
In the end, however, only the Lakers got the job done, defeating whoever was in their path convincingly and only dropping one game in each series along the way.
Meanwhile, neither the Clippers nor Bucks even made it to the Conference Finals on their respective sides of the brackets, with the former blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in Round 2 and the latter losing to the Miami Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Only one team had both the talent and mettle to become champions: the Lakers.
People can complain about L.A. having an easy path to No. 17 all they want but at the end of the day, as a team, they did their job and beat who they were supposed to beat – in a convincing manner, at that.
THEY STAYED HEALTHY THROUGHOUT…
Despite James being 35 with a million miles’ worth of wear and tear on his body and Davis being labeled as injury-prone at different points in his career, the Lakers were able to stay mostly healthy this campaign.
Losing either James or Davis for any sort of extended period in the bubble could have ruined L.A.’s chances at winning a title this year, particularly with how dominant the duo has proven to be together.
Overall, the Lakers suffered just three big injuries this campaign: One came before the season when DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL; the second was Avery Bradley’s hairline fracture early in the year that forced him to miss 13 games to start 2019-20; and the third was Rajon Rondo’s fractured thumb which cost the first five games of the playoffs.
Besides that, Los Angeles was pretty healthy all year long, and that was pretty huge in their title victory.
THEY OVERPOWERED TEAMS PHYSICALLY…
In an era so focused on small ball, the Lakers went mostly in a different direction with their roster this season, and took that philosophy all the way to the 2019-20 championship.
With a frontcourt rotation consisting of Davis at the 4 usually sharing the floor with either the rejuvenated Dwight Howard or McGee, Los Angeles’ size proved to be an overwhelming force for whoever they faced in the postseason.
Having a versatile generational talent like Davis at power forward certainly makes things easier, but the Lakers were able to prove that there are still more ways to win in the modern NBA than depending on small ball.
Among teams who made it out of the first round of the playoffs this year, Los Angeles’ rebound rate ranked first by a solid margin and their offensive rebound rate was likewise first, but by an even larger margin.
In the Finals, L.A. took that to another level, outrebounding the Heat by a historic extent. Per our research, dating back to 1984, the Lakers’ +7.5 rebounding differential over Miami in the 2020 Finals is the second-highest rebounding advantage in Finals history.
The first-place team in that regard, the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, outrebounded L.A. in the Finals by a +8.0 margin that year, while the third-place finisher, the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers, had a +6.5 rebounding advantage over the Golden State Warriors.
That means not only was their offense extremely efficient in the postseason (the Lakers’ 115.6 points scored per 100 possessions was No. 1 among teams with at least eight games played), they were also able to pick up a ton of extra possessions nightly.
It’s no wonder Los Angeles dominated the way they did in the playoffs.
THEIR ROSTER WAS ALSO FLEXIBLE…
A key factor towards the Lakers’ championship this year was the fact that although they preferred to go big more often than not, they also had the roster flexibility to move pieces around depending on their matchup.
The best example of that came in the Western Conference semifinals when they faced the Rockets’ vaunted small-ball attack, which was built to force players like Howard and McGee off the floor.
So after dropping Game 1 of that series, what did Los Angeles do?
Moved Davis to the 5, benched the Howard/McGee combo and stared Markieff Morris for the final two outings of the series, which the Lakers would go on to win by 33 combined points.
Morris, who has been excellent in his role for L.A., is the prototypical modern small-ball 4 who can space the floor and defend multiple positions on the other end of the floor.
Their two superstars may have carried most of the load, but the Lakers had a very solid supporting cast around them, one that could be effectively implemented in a multitude of ways.
THEY’RE STILL THE LAKERS…
What we mean by that is that a franchise as historic and important as the Lakers were able to bounce back from years of poor play and questionable front-office decisions to land LeBron James in free agency and trade for Davis within a one-year stretch.
That’s not a luxury most – if any other – teams have.
As such, Los Angeles went from fielding a poor team as recently as two years ago to being champions two campaigns later.
The “fairness” behind that is up for debate, but to their credit, the Lakers did do a great job of building around their two stars this year, creating a hard-working culture and putting in place a solid coaching staff to help the team along the way.
What’s more, years of choosing near the top of the draft did give Los Angeles the assets they needed to swing a move for Davis, and it’s not like they didn’t lose anything in that trade.
Brandon Ingram turned into an All-Star for the New Orleans Pelicans, Lonzo Ball still has solid potential and Josh Hart is a respectable complementary piece at 2-guard.
At the end of the day, however, fans of other NBA teams will question how it’s possible for the Lakers to make so many mistakes in the past decade – anyone remember the Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov contracts? – yet still be rewarded with acquiring two Top 5 players in their primes anyway.
If anything, this season provided us with the ultimate reminder: They’re still the Lakers, and they’re not going anywhere.
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