LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — Jimmy Butler had a bandage on his right knee and a wrap on his left ankle. His team’s starting point guard and center are both doubtful to play in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. And his Miami Heat are coming off a one-sided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Given all that, Butler believes a perception exists that this series is already over.
“I beg to differ,” Butler said on Thursday (Friday, Manila time).
Say this for the Heat: They’re down but refuse to believe they’re anywhere near out. Game 2 of the finals is Friday night (Saturday, Manila time), with Miami bracing to be without point guard Goran Dragic because of a torn left plantar fascia and All-Star Bam Adebayo due to a newly diagnosed neck injury on top of his ongoing shoulder issues.
“When it rains, it pours,” said Butler, who’ll play through a sore ankle in Game 2. “All in all, though, we’re still expected to win. We got here for a reason. We realize we belong. ... Obviously, we definitely need those two guys, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve always said, next man up when a man goes down.”
The Lakers won Game 1 116-98, a score that didn’t exactly show how lopsided things were for much of the game. Miami started on a 25-12 run; the Lakers scored 75 of the game’s next 105 points — a staggering burst. A 13-point deficit midway through the first quarter became a 32-point lead midway through the third for the Lakers.
That, combined with Miami’s injury problems, sure seems to indicate that the Lakers have full control of this matchup. Dragic had been Miami’s leading scorer in the first three playoff rounds. Adebayo is the team’s best rebounder and blossoming into a superstar.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he’ll plan for Dragic and Adebayo to play. But even if they can’t go, Vogel said Miami’s fourth-quarter lineup from Game 1 — a group that included Kendrick Nunn and Kelly Olynyk, both of whom would see much bigger roles if Dragic and Adebayo are out — presented some challenges.
“They have an army of guys that play a great style of play, that’s very, very difficult to guard,” Vogel said. “They work extremely hard on the defensive end and we’ve got to prepare for whoever’s in uniform.”
The Lakers have a locked-in LeBron James — who was one assist shy of extending his record for finals triple-doubles — and Anthony Davis made his finals debut look easy with 34 points. But James is taking nothing for granted, revealing that he was up until 4:30 a.m. Thursday watching film from Game 1.
James said he saw plenty of ways the Lakers can be better.
“We are playing against an exceptional basketball team,” James said. “Obviously, great-coached. We’ve have to continue to understand that coming into Game 2 ... they’re going to make adjustments in Game 2 and we need to be ready for that.”
Nunn had 18 points in Game 1. He was Miami’s starter the entire regular season, finished second in the rookie of the year voting, but has been used sparingly in the playoffs — in part because Dragic has been so good, in part because Nunn missed Miami’s first 25 days in the bubble because of his recovery from the coronavirus.
“I’m ready to play,” Nunn said. “I’ve been ready, been all season. I had to step up, and simple as that. I’ll be ready to play and compete and go out there and try to get a win.”
The numbers clearly show that Game 1 winners typically prevail in a series. The Heat know it’s not an absolute rule. So does James. All three of Miami’s NBA titles came after Game 1 losses in the finals. James was part of two of those comebacks, and his third championship in Cleveland was won in the same fashion.
This feels a bit different, of course, given the injury concerns.
“This is when you feel most alive, when you’re being tested competitively and challenged in new ways, different ways,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is a quality opponent. This is the way the whole playoff system is supposed to be set up. It’s supposed to get tougher and more challenging every single round and may the best team win at the very end.”