2001 Lakers vs 2012 Miami Heat

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These are two of the most iconic teams in NBA history featuring some of the best players the game has ever seen. But what would happen if Shaq, Kobe and Fisher square off against LeBron, Wade, and Bosh? How big of an impact will the role players (Fox, Horry, Grant, Battier, Chalmers, Haslem) play in this? And can the Filipino Jackson go toe to toe with Phil Jackson?

It’s often said that the 2001 Lakers are arguably the “most dominant team in NBA history”. Well, I’ve yet to hear an argument against that statement. That Lakers team were a career-defining game from Allen Iverson away from going unbeaten in the playoffs, and had to settle for a 15-1 record. Nearly as unbelievable as that record was their point differential. The Lakers had a +13 point differential in the playoffs. Shaq and Kobe were simply unstoppable during this championship run:

2001 Averages Shaq Kobe
Points 30.4 (56%) 29.4 (47%)
Rebounds 15.4 7.3
Assists 3.2 6.1
Blocks 2.4 0.8
Steals 0.4 1.6

Do me a favour and re-read those stats again. Then combine that with Derek Fisher shooting 52% from 3-point territory (including 75% during the Western Conference Finals) for the entire playoffs, Rick Fox averaging 10/5/4/2 and played incredible defence, Horace Grant and Robert Horry tag-teaming the power forward positon to combine for 12/12/3/2/2. This means they received incredible production out of every position, and made it nearly impossible for teams to even attempt to slow down the Shaq/Kobe show.

This Laker squad had excellent balance to go along with their unstoppable talent. The same really can’t be said for 2012 Miami Heat team. In 2011, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, despite playing (by definition) different positions, got in each other’s way in the NBA finals and resulted in their offence becoming very predictable and easy to defend. During their playoff run in 2011, Chris Bosh suffered a groin injury and LeBron ended up having to play Power Forward with Shane Battier inserted into the starting line-up. That change, despite being out of necessity, resulted in the court being opened up for LeBron and Wade and allowed them room to operate. Let’s have a look at their stats

2012 Averages LeBron Wade
Points 30.3 (50%) 22.8 (46%)
Rebounds 9.7 5.2
Assists 5.6 4.3
Blocks 0.7 1.3
Steals 1.9 1.7

Those numbers are excellent, but are dwarfed by the Shaq/Kobe numbers in 2001. But we can’t forget about Bosh. When he returned, he played centre alongside the James/ Battier/ Wade/ Chalmers line-up, but his role was that of a shooter to stretch the defence. Despite the injury, he averaged 14/8, plus shot 54% from 3 (although, in limited attempts. He really didn’t start taking those shots until his return in game 5 of the conference finals. He finished the playoffs shooting 7/13 from 3, which is great, but is a small sample size). You also have to take into account Chalmers who averaged 11/4/4/1 and shot 36% from 3. Battier played great defence throughout the playoffs, and was also a reliable shooter from deep (38% from 3). When they had all their weapons available and in roles to compliment LeBron and Wade, Miami exploded in the finals. James averaged 29/10/7/2. All Miami’s starters averaged over 10 PPG, and the Heat won the series in 5.

Despite being “undersized” (it’s hard to say that LeBron at 6″8 and 260 lbs is undersized at the 4 spot), the Heat only gave up 90 ppg from opposing teams. But who would they throw at Shaq to possibly slow him down? Doubling is pretty much out of the question when you consider Kobe is also on the Lakers, and you have all those great shooters on the court. So Miami would be stuck with trying to guard him without a double-team. You have to assume that LeBron would see some time on him, but considering what kind of fatigue that would generate for the cramp-prone James, and that would be suicide. Outside of James, Miami does not have a favourable match-up (unless if you count Bosh as a power forward, which we’re not. Let’s look at the best line up for each team:

2001 Lakers 2012 Heat
5. Shaq Bosh
4. Horry James
3. Fox Battier
2. Bryant Wade
1. Fisher Chalmers

A 2006 Dwyane Wade, when he was in his prime, would have made this match-up competitive. But 2012 Wade vs 2001 Kobe is a major advantage for the Lakers. Fox and Battier are almost a wash. Battier was a better shooter, but Fox played some brilliant defence on Pippen and Peja in that playoff run. Fisher was a much better shooter and leader than Chalmers, as well as playing far superior defence. It was Fisher in the 2001 Finals who guarded Iverson after game 1, and he forced A.I. to shoot 41% for the series.

In 2001, despite being excellent on the ball, Kobe still wasn’t an elite post-up defender. Wade had developed his post-game into one of his weapons, but I’m not sure if that’s a huge advantage. If that’s a problem, you could always put Kobe on LeBron, whose post-game was still raw. Otherwise, it’s Fox or Horry guarding him. You might think that Horry would get burnt, but he was actually a solid defender with size, speed, length, and good footwork. He was also great with help. I mentioned how good Fox’s defence was before. He was physical, and played excellent denial on the perimeter. LeBron would still get the ball, but he’d have to expend a lot of energy just getting it, and then he’d have to deal with a physical Lakers help defence coming from all angles. It doesn’t look like it’d be a good series for him.

The only option Miami might have available is Chris Bosh’s jumpshot, but that would probably only be the result of pick and pop situations. This was not really a play Miami used much in 2012. As I mentioned before, Bosh was really a played to stretch the defence when he returned from injury. If they run a lot of screens for LeBron or Wade, Miami runs the risk of bringing defenders right to the ball handler, which is exactly what they needed to avoid to free up driving lanes for LeBron and Wade. If Miami was exploiting the two-man game, Los Angeles would be to give help from the weak side and dare Miami into shooting contested 3’s with a scrambling defence without relying on Shaq getting out on Bosh. I’d back the Lakers defence in that situation, as the ball would be out of LeBron’s hands and forcing Chalmers or Battier to try finish in the lane after dribble penetration would probably be disastrous.

But it really all comes down to Shaq, and what little answers Miami has to guard him. You saw the stats from before. Now look at his line from the 2001 finals against Defensive Player of the Year, Dikembe Mutombo: 33 PPG (57%), 15.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 3.4 BPG. Once again, this was against the defensive player of the year. There’s no way Bosh, LeBron, Haslim, would even slow him down. He could easily go for 45 ppg if he was single covered by any of those guys. And the moment they double, they’re leaving one of the Lakers open. This was a tactic used by some great defensive teams during the Lakers championship run (Portland, San Antonio, Philly) and it did not end well.

Final Verdict: Lakers sweep Miami, just like they did to nearly everyone else in 2001. You might be able to talk me into Miami getting one game just simply because LeBron and the Heat found ways to win critical games (Game 4 in Indiana, when down 2-1; Game 6 in Boston, when down 3-2; Game 2 in Oklahoma, when down 1-0), but the Lakers were ruthless in those situations. You have to be to win 11 straight in the playoffs on route going 15-1. Also think about this: The Lakers swept Portland (the year before, pushed the Lakers to 7 games in the conference finals), Sacramento (the next season, would push the Lakers to 7 games in the conference finals), San Antonio (just two years earlier, were NBA champs), and then would beat Philly 4-1. Every other time a team has won the NBA finals 4-1, it’s considered a huge beat down. But when this Laker team won 4-1, it was thought of as a disappointment. That’s just insane. Also think about how good those teams were that the Lakers steamrolled, and how mediocre Miami’s opponents were, and how shaky the Heat looked in both their championship runs. Yeah, I’ve got no doubt this would be a sweep.