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Malika Andrews fought painful demons before meteoric ESPN rise




Malika Andrews fought painful demons before meteoric ESPN rise

Malika Andrews seems too perfect. At just 25 years old, she is a lead reporter for ESPN in the NBA’s Orlando bubble.

She has been on national TV nearly every day for almost three straight months.

If she isn’t a star already, then she is an assignment away from becoming one. It all looks so easy.

Everything, though, isn’t always as it appears.

As a middle-schooler, just 11 years ago, Andrews was, in her words, “angry, depressed and anxious.” While she may have appeared unbothered, her pain grew inside, an unseen enemy that warped her emotions and caused a tremor in her family. She felt unseen and it manifested itself in different forms.

She fought with her parents. She flunked out of middle school. And she suffered from an eating disorder.

These issues perplex so many families, and the Andrews were no different.

“It is not like x+y=z,” said Andrews, trying to answer how the issues developed. “It was just a feeling that something was not right. I can’t explain it.”

It was so confusing for her and her family. Her dad, Mike (a personal trainer), and her mom, Caren (an art teacher), were supportive and loving. There were family dinners nearly every night. Living in Oakland, they all bonded over the Golden State Warriors. Malika skied, rode horses and rock climbed. Her younger sister, Kendra, idolized her.

Malika, whose mom is Jewish, had a Bat Mitzvah. She was becoming a young woman.

With her outer shell firmly in place, it all looked so perfect. Inside, though, it was not adding up.

“I think I need some help”

Malike with her sisters Kendra
Malika with her sister KendraCourtesy of Malika Andrews

By the time Malika was 14, it was about survival.

“I can’t even describe how hard that was to get through,” Mike said.

Malika shunned her family and stopped studying. She was kicked out of Oakland’s Head-Royce School in 8th grade. The stress led to sickness.

“It doesn’t really fit neatly into a box,” Malika said of her eating disorder. “I struggled with restricting and purging. It is not really anorexia or bulimia. It is more anorexia than bulimia, but it doesn’t fit super neatly into a box, which I learned through my years of treatment that more and more eating disorders don’t fit neatly into a box.”

Malika has always been determined, and that strength came through paradoxically when she admitted vulnerability. Malika stepped over the growing fissures in her relationship with her parents.

“I got to a point that I told my mother, ‘I think I need some help. I don’t think I’m going to be able to figure this out by myself.’” Malika said.

When Malika was 14, her parents sent her to a year-round therapeutic boarding school in Utah. It pained Mike and Caren, but it was what she needed.

She found herself again and recommitted to her studies in Utah. She even graduated early at 17.

“Now, I look at it as one of the best things that could have happened to me,” Malika said.

A young media sensation

At just 17, Mailka didn’t want to immediately go to college. She returned home to Oakland and worked at her zayde’s (yiddish for grandfather) civil rights law firm.

The 9-to-5:30 cubicle grind convinced her she wanted to have a job more like her parents. Their passions were their work.

Malika went to the University of Portland, but did not know exactly what she wanted to be. She chose to study communications to avoid math.

From there, she made friends who happened to be on the school newspaper.

The only available spot on the paper was in sports. Her sister, Kendra, was already fascinated by the idea that she could be paid to write about athletes.

Malika was, too. She was good at it, even writing a story that forced the school to add padding around the soccer field walls for safety. She was amazed her words could make a difference.

She would become the sports editor and then the managing editor of the college paper. She won a National Association of Black Journalists scholarship with the added value of being able to learn from reporters, like Marc Spears and Sherrod Blakely. She trained with the Sports Journalists Institute, which promotes the development of young journalists to diversify newsrooms.

In 2016, NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski would be on Portland’s campus one day to record a podcast with the university’s new head coach, former Trail Blazers point guard Terry Porter.

Wojnarowski happened to pick up the student paper, The Beacon, where he read a feature on Porter. The strong lede and the byline stuck in Wojnarowski’s mind.

A year later, after graduating from Portland in 2017, Malika would introduce herself to Wojnarowski at a summer league game and, to her surprise, he already knew her name. It was just the beginning. She was becoming a sensation.

“Did you ever think?”

Malika hop-skipped from a Denver Post internship to a New York Times fellowship to a Chicago Tribune job before Cristina Daglas, who heads up’s NBA division, snatched her up to cover the Bulls and Bucks. Soon after, she was moved to New York to cover the Knicks and Nets.

In late June, ESPN bestowed her with the daily on-site reporter job in the Orlando bubble. Even though she’s a writer at heart, she fits on TV, despite her lack of reps.

Malika Andrews working a Raptors-76ers game inside the NBA bubble.
Malika Andrews working a Raptors-76ers game inside the NBA bubble.Getty Images

Back in Oakland, her parents and grandparents have ESPN on nightly, which is not unusual. They have watched Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy forever. The trio began calling the NBA Finals when Malika was having her Bat Mitzvah at 13. Now, Malika is their colleague.

“I still can’t believe this is happening,” her dad said.

Family is No. 1 again in Malika’s heart. That sister who idolized her is on the same career path. Kendra, 23, is the Nuggets beat writer for The Athletic. She is dabbling in some TV, too. Malika is a career mentor, helping with angles and offering advice.

“I’m not perfect now,” Malika said. “I don’t think it is something you are ever ‘recovered’ from. It is something I have to actively work on every day.”

Her mother thinks her work helps Malika. She is already known in the business for being serious and focused.

A decade ago, Malika was in Utah trying to figure herself out. Her relationship with her parents is renewed.

“My mother reminds me all the time,” Malika said. “My mother and I have a wonderful relationship now. She says, ‘Man, did you ever think? Did you ever think?’ I say, ‘I never thought.’”

On Tuesday, Malika Andrews, again at just 25, was the sideline reporter for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference telecast on ESPN. She is believed to be the youngest ever to receive such an assignment.

“It reads like an after-school special to me when I look at it objectively,” her mom said. “She was a sweet kid, had a rough spot and then was able to overcome it and is now on national television doing work that I think she enjoys.”


Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.

Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.

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Who is the fastest player in the NFL in 2020? Tyreek Hill has competition in Raheem Mostert, Lamar Jackson




Who is the fastest player in the NFL in 2020? Tyreek Hill has competition in Raheem Mostert, Lamar Jackson

Once upon a time, Chad Johnson (or was he Ochocinco) challenged a race horse. While giving himself a head start, the Bengals star wide receiver won the race, proving that man can be faster than beast with a predetermined advantage. 

Johnson wouldn’t have held up in a fair race against many of the players in the modern NFL, though. Guys like Tyreek Hill, Raheem Mostert and even Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray display more apparent on-field speed than maybe anyone in NFL history. If not for high definition, they’d be blurs on our television screens. But who’s really the fastest player in the NFL?

It’s too bad the Pro Bowl doesn’t have it’s fastest man competition anymore. The fastest players in the NFL literally lined up and raced each other like they were track athletes. That’d be an easier way of solving this problem than anything else.

Who is the fastest player in the NFL?

There isn’t one perfect way to answer this question. The most easy thing to do is cite 40-yard dash times, but that’s also not simulating a football game played in pads with defenders attempting to tackle the ball carrier. 

Thankfully, the NFL’s Next Gen Stats have begun to help with this dilemma, providing sprint speeds for players on individual plays. That’s helpful – it can show us who has the most top-end speed in the league. In 2020, it looks like Raheem Mostert is the early favorite for fastest player in the NFL when you look at the table of Next Gen Stats data below.

The answer probably falls somewhere in the middle of these two data possibilities. A player’s straight line speed in workout clothes will generally translate to how fast he can be on the football field. The biggest problem for some of the fastest players who boost (think Darius Heyward-Bey of the Raiders) is that they don’t frequently enough free themselves up with the football in space to show off that blazing speed. It’s sort of irrelevant who the fastest player in the NFL is in a vacuum – teams are ideally looking for the players who have the most effective speed, mixing raw running velocity with the talent to let that speed play.

Top 10 fastest NFL players in 2020 (mph)

Here are the 10 fastest runs from the 2020 NFL season (via NFL’s Next Gen Stats):

Player Team Top speed (mph) Play event
Raheem Mostert 49ers 23.09 80-yard rushing TD
Raheem Mostert 49ers 22.73 76-yard receiving TD
Leonard Fournette Buccaneers 21.44 46-yard rushing TD
L’Jarius Sneed Chiefs 21.38 39-yard interception
Devin McCourty Patriots 21.33 43-yard interception TD
Tyreek Hill Chiefs 21.29 9-yard rush
Raheem Mostert 49ers 21.27 4-yard rush
Michael Gallup Cowboys 21.19 52-yard reception
Marquez Valdes-Scantling Packers 21.11 45-yard receiving TD
Ashton Dulin Colts 21.07 6-yard reception

Mostert has managed the two fastest runs of the season by more than a full mile per hour than the next closest name on the list, which is somehow 228-pound bruiser Leonard Fournette. It might be more remarkable that Hill, Mostert and Ashton Dulin got up to such high speeds on such short gains.

Top 10 fastest 40 times (active NFL players)

And here are the 10 fastest 40 times by active NFL players, recorded during either the NFL Combine or at a Pro Day:

Player Team 40-yard dash time Year Position
John Ross Bengals 4.22 2017 WR
Marquise Goodwin Eagles 4.27 2019 WR
Henry Ruggs III Raiders 4.27 2020 WR
Tyreek Hill Chiefs 4.29 2016 WR
Javelin Guidry Jets 4.29 2020 CB
Curtis Samuel Panthers 4.31 2017 WR
Andy Isabella Cardinals 4.31 2019 WR
Parris Campbell Colts 4.31 2019 WR
Will Fuller V Texans 4.32 2018 WR
Raheem Mostert 49ers 4.32 2015 RB

When Ross ran his 4.22-second 40-yard dash in 2017, he broke past the recent high-water mark of Chris Johnson’s 4.24-second 40. That hasn’t been touched in the three years since, with rookie Henry Rugs III coming the closest in 2020 at 4.27 seconds. 

It makes sense that Goodwin is fast – he’s one of the best athletes in the NFL and competed in the 2012 Olympics for the United States as a long jumper.

It’s also worth noting in regards to this list that Marquise “Hollywood” Brown of the Ravens has never run a reported 40-yard dash. He’s regarded as one of the fastest players in the NFL.

What is Tyreek Hill’s 40 time?

Tyreek Hill didn’t participate in the 2016 NFL combine because of a domestic abuse arrest. At West Alabama’s Pro Day, Hill was clocked at 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

What is Mecole Hardman’s 40 time?

Hill’s teammate and potential heir apparent in Kansas City is nearly as fast as “the Cheetah.” At the 2019 NFL Combine, Hardman ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, coming it 0.04 seconds behind Hill’s reported pro day time.

What is Raheem Mostert’s 40 time?

Despite being the class of speed in the 2020 NFL, Mostert didn’t come in with the fastest 40-yard dash time. He ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at Purdue’s Pro Day in 2015.

What is Nick Chubb’s 40 time?

Chubb has yet to break into the charts above, but he had a few of the fastest runs of the 2019 season. At the 2018 NFL Combine, though, Chubb ran just a 4.52-second 40-yard dash. 

What is Leonard Fournette’s 40 time?

Fournette’s presence on this list begs the question of how fast his 40-yard dash was. Like Chubb, he’s put together speedy long runs despite a relatively pedestrian 40 time of 4.51 seconds at the NFL Combine in 2017.

What is Odell Beckham Jr.’s 40 time?

Beckham remains one of the best receivers in the open field thanks in part to the 4.43 40-yard dash speed he showed off at the 2014 NFL Combine. 

What is Saquon Barkley’s 40 time?

Barkley made the top-10 run speeds list multiple times in 2019, but he won’t get to claim his place in the 2020 list due to a season-ending knee injury. In the 2018 NFL Combine, Barkley ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash.

What is Christian McCaffrey’s 40 time?

One of the best all-around running backs in the NFL, McCaffrey ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine.

What is Lamar Jackson’s 40 time?

Jackson didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but at a “speed day” put on by Louisville in 2017, he reportedly ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash. 

What is Patrick Mahomes’ 40 time?

Mahomes has incorporated running as a part of his game, but usually as more of a passer who scrambles while still looking to throw. His NFL Combine 40-yard dash time was 4.80 seconds.

What is Kyler Murray’s 40 time?

Murray also didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. When asked about it in 2019, he said that a few years earlier he’d run a 4.30 and was faster now. There’s a reason Murray was a first-round baseball pick as a potential major league centerfielder.

What is Josh Allen’s 40 time?

Allen has turned into one of the NFL’s best rushing quarterbacks, but he wasn’t superbly fast at the 2018 NFL Combine, running a 4.76-second 40-yard dash. 

Who is the fastest NFL player ever?

Without a time machine, there’ll never be a rock-solid answer to this. That’s because before 1999, the NFL used manual timing at the NFL Combine, leaving room for human error. The fastest player with electronic timing is the Bengals’ John Ross, who ran the 40 in 4.22 seconds in 2017.

Besides Ross, we’ve got to start with Bo Jackson, though. Jackson famously said in the 30-for-30 about him that he never lifted weights a day in his life, despite has chiseled physique. All that muscle didn’t stop Jackson from running a reported 4.13-second 40-yard dash at the 1986 Combine, which would just about break the Internet if it happened with electronic timing today.

Bob Hayes played for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s and 1970s after tying the world record in the 100-meter dash (10.06 seconds) at the 1964 Olympics. His nickname was Bullet for a reason. According to MileSplit’s convertor, that translates into a 4.19-second 40-yard dash, although we can’t say whether Hayes would’ve accelerated and maintained speed in the same proportion as to how he did in the 100-meter dash if he ran a 40-yard dash.

For what it’s worth, if Usain Bolt had ever run the 40-yard dash, he might’ve broken what seems like the impossible 4.0-second barrier. Bolt’s 9.58-second 100-meter dash time converts to a 3.99-second 40-yard dash. Bolt’s only problem would’ve been his long strides – he doesn’t pick up full speed until the second half of his 100-meter races, by which point his 40-yard dash would’ve already been over. 


Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.

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What will worry Yankees in MLB playoffs




What will worry Yankees in MLB playoffs

The Indians arguably have the best starter (Shane Bieber over Gerrit Cole), best player (Jose Ramirez over DJ LeMahieu) and best reliever (James Karichnak over Aroldis Chapman) in their best-of-three series against the Yankees.

They have as good a starting three, with Bieber followed by Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac, as any AL contender, an unheralded but deep, successful bullpen and excellent infield defense.

The Yankees’ edge in this series is in length of lineup, but will that lineup play against the team that led the AL in ERA (3.29)? The ball really carries to right-center at Progressive Field, so watch the weather, the cooler the better for Cleveland’s pitching to temper an Aaron Judge or Luke Voit from going deep to the opposite field.

Game 1 in a three-game series is obviously vital, even more so when each team is firing its best weapon: Cole and Bieber. With the help of three experts (a scout and two executives), a scouting breakdown of what the Yankees should expect this week in Cleveland:

Bieber Fever

What does June 9, 2019, mean? That day the Yankees inflicted Bieber with perhaps his worst outing — five runs in 1 ²/₃ innings. Since then, he has a 2.39 ERA in 32 starts. The only starters with a better ERA in that period are Jacob deGrom (2.02) and Cole (2.11). This season Bieber was the majors’ best starter, becoming the first pitcher since Johan Santana in 2006 to win the majors’ pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA and strikeouts).

His emergence as an ace allowed the Indians to more comfortably trade Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger in the past 14 months. Cleveland’s staff, particularly its starters, are renowned for command and pitchability. But Bieber is the best. His fastball and breaking ball are both elite, and so is the righty’s precision. He doesn’t miss in the middle of the plate much (if at all) and his slider comes from the same arm slot with similar spin as his fastball before veering off the plate late.

Can the Yankee hitters have the discipline until two strikes to lay off the pitch away and hope it is a fastball or slider off the plate that gets them ahead, and just fixate on middle-in with the concept of driving the ball to right-center? This is the general hitting philosophy against Bieber, but it is so hard to execute (batters hit .167 against him).

Beating Bieber would be a huge psychological blow in a best-of-three and losing to him does not mean the series is over because the other Cleveland pitchers are good, but no one is close to Bieber.

The Cleveland Indians and Yankees will begin their MLB playoff series Tuesday.
The Cleveland Indians and Yankees will begin their MLB playoff series Tuesday.Getty Images

The Right Stuff

The Indians are lined up to start three righties vs. the Yankees, and Bieber has held righty hitters to a .565 OPS, Game 2 starter Carlos Carrasco a .638 OPS and — if necessary — Game 3 starter Zach Plesac a .526 OPS. Plesac walked just two of 114 righty batters and might have the best righty pickoff move in the majors — so baserunners beware.

Impressive rookie starter Triston McKenzie held righties to a .530 OPS against and becomes a multi-inning asset in this series. And Karichnak and his 95-mph-plus fastball and true power curve make him among the most important players in this series. He struck out an AL-high 48.6 percent of batters he faced. It was 30 of the 59 righties he faced, holding them to a .441 OPS. So when there is a stretch of Yankee righty power in a pivotal spot, expect Karinchak in the game.

Also, just considering the righty pitching strength, does Aaron Boone think about Brett Gardner’s lefty bat rather than Clint Frazier’s? Frazier hit righties well this year, but he became more of a groundball machine late in the season while Gardner’s offense perked up (he also homered against Bieber in that June 9, 2019, game). Also, the Yanks are not a strong defensive team. Frazier was better than last year in the field, but he can still be indecisive with the ball in the air or in his hand. Gardner provides better defense.

No Tito

Terry Francona last managed the Indians on Aug. 16 and will not return for the playoffs. He has been dealing with gastrointestinal and blood clotting issues. Francona has managed the 19th most games in major league history and the sixth most playoff games, going 40-29.

Sandy Alomar Jr. did well enough in Francona’s absence to help steady the Indians after they lost eight straight in September to win nine of 11 to close the season and gain the home field with the No. 4 seed in the AL.

Francona, though, is renowned as among the best bullpen manipulators in the history of the game and this Cleveland bullpen is more matchup dependent than overpowering beyond Karinchak. Journeymen types such as Phil Maton, Nick Wittgren and, yep, that is still Oliver Perez getting outs with his multiple funky motions, all have pitched well in relief. This is a pen that will throw a lot of breaking balls early in counts to try to get ahead — closer Brad Hand tends to pitch backward, for example, his best-pitch slider early and a diminished but still effective fastball late. Don’t be surprised to see Hand in leverage situations even before the ninth inning.

But when and how to use these relievers is a skill. The Indians’ blessing is Carl Willis. Bieber is going to be the fifth Cy Young winner under his pitching coach tutelage (also CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez and Rick Porcello). Francona leaned on him, so will Alomar. But still, under this scrutiny, is there something lost not having Francona on the bench?

Ramirez is the Manny

Jose Ramirez might win the MVP because of how great he was late in the season. The third baseman’s final 11 hits were all for extra bases — seven doubles and four homers. He can hit anyone’s fastball — even Cole’s or Chapman’s. You really have to do all in your power to not let the switch-hitter face a lefty. The Indians’ lineup top four are all switch hitters — Francisco Lindor, Cesar Hernandez, Ramirez and Carlos Santana. It makes Cleveland difficult to match up against. You will want to turn Lindor and Hernandez to the right side, but then you have Ramirez doing the same (eight homers in 57 at-bats this year vs. lefties). Tommy Kahnle would have been useful in this series for the Yankees, with his changeup to deal with lefties, including even Ramirez to some degree.

All four switch hitters work the count — Santana, even in a down year (.199 average), walked (47) more than he struck out (43), and he remains a guy who wants the clutch moment. The pivot point in the lineup is DH Franmil Reyes hitting fifth. He is a bit of a wild card. He has a ton of holes in his swing, but he has Judge/Giancarlo Stanton power and a few hot days could change a series. Beyond him, the bottom of the lineup is weak and a key to this series is Yankee pitchers not wasting bullets with deep counts on the bottom half or letting it turn over the lineup regularly to the top.

The Yankees must avoid letting Ramirez beat them. The more the big at-bats are put into other’s hands the better path to win this series.

There is No “D” in Yankees

Cleveland is a sound defensive team, especially in the infield, including catcher Roberto Perez. Lindor got more chase happy this year and had a down offensive season, but his glove remains superb and his defensive advantage over Gleyber Torres is as big as any element in this series. The Yankees hit into a lot of double plays, but don’t convert them well on defense as opposed to the Indians, who do. Cleveland’s Tyler Naquin can really throw from right field.

The more pressure that can be put on the Yankee catchers, especially Gary Sanchez, the better. Ramirez is not a burner, but is among the game’s smartest baserunners. He will steal a big base in a big spot if you don’t watch him. Will Lindor and Delino DeShields Jr. have a green light? Will Oscar Mercado receive pinch-running chances? Perez will try to drop a bunt for a hit if the infield is not alert. The Indians’ baserunners are good at moving up bases on balls in the dirt — so Sanchez will be challenged.


Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.

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Heat vs. Lakers predictions, picks, schedule for 2020 NBA Finals




Heat vs. Lakers predictions, picks, schedule for 2020 NBA Finals

What to know about Heat vs. Lakers

After the Heat closed out the Eastern Conference finals with a Game 6 win over the Celtics on Sunday night, Miami forward Jimmy Butler offered a nice summary of the past decade of NBA Finals series.

“The main key — and it’s been like this for a very long time — if you want to win, you’re going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team,” Butler said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it normally comes down to. That’s what we’ve gotta focus in on. Obviously you can’t just focus in on him because he has so many really good players around him, but you’re going to get the same test over and over again until you pass it. That test is LeBron James.”

Oh, that guy is back. James has reached nine of the past 10 NBA Finals, this time coming out of the Western Conference with the Lakers after eight trips as a member of the Cavs, and yes, the Heat. The reunion storyline will be hanging over the Miami-Los Angeles matchup because James’ departure from South Beach in 2014 left hard feelings on both sides

However, this isn’t about James facing Pat Riley. It’s about a championship favorite in the Lakers facing a Heat team with some serious 2004 Pistons vibes.

James and Anthony Davis are the top two players in the series, but how far down the list can you go before hitting another Laker? Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic and more have each made a splash in these playoffs for the Heat and contributed to victories in their own ways. Miami isn’t satisfied with making it this far — the Heat are here to win it all.

Which team will leave the “bubble” with the Larry O’Brien trophy? Let’s dive in …

The key matchup

LeBron James vs. Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala

There is no stopping James, but the Heat can deploy a few forwards capable of at least challenging him, including a former Finals MVP in Iguodala who is extremely familiar with James’ game from the Cavs-Warriors days.

As has always been the case, the key is to prevent James from living in the paint. Through 15 playoff games, James has taken 267 field goal attempts, 139 of which have come within eight feet of the basket, per stats. If he gets rolling downhill, well, good luck with that.

Keep him on the perimeter, though, and you can live with the results. James is shooting just 32.5 percent on 3-pointers above the break this postseason, and he dipped under 30 percent from deep against both the Rockets and Nuggets.

No need to chase over screens like James is Duncan Robinson. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will take this possession every time.

“You just got to have that will, understanding you’re guarding the top talent ever,” Iguodala told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears. “He’s going to make you pay when you make mistakes. You just try to play mistake-free basketball. Put him in vulnerable situations where you feel like you got the advantage, whether it’s a shot or a pass or where he is defensively.”

Butler, Crowder and Iguodala possess the strength, speed and quick hands to occasionally push James away from the areas in which he’d prefer to operate.

When it comes down to it, though, defense on James is a team effort. That’s why Spoelstra may use Miami’s zone defense as a change-up pitch.

The X-factor

Can Anthony Davis break the Heat’s zone defense?

The problem with the zone? Davis is the ideal guy to carve it up, and James knows how to find him.

While the Heat flustered the Celtics with the zone at times during the Eastern Conference finals, the Lakers are a different animal. Instead of Daniel Theis catching the ball in the middle, it’s a First Team All-NBA player. (Meyers Leonard won’t be part of the zone in the Finals, but the point stands.)

Davis is hitting nearly 80 percent of his playoff shots in the restricted area and more than 50 percent of his attempts from midrange, per stats. His ability to score at multiple levels puts pressure on the defense and opens passing lanes.

If the Heat plan to utilize the zone for long stretches, they must be on a string with their rotations and constantly communicating where Davis is roaming. (Adebayo will draw the primary assignment if they mostly stick with man-to-man. He can’t afford to get in foul trouble against Davis, who is averaging 9.8 free throws per game in the postseason.)

This is not the same defense Los Angeles saw during the regular season, obviously, but this version of Davis also looks far more comfortable with his team than he did back in December when the Heat and Lakers last met.

The big number


For all the talk about the Heat winning by committee, Miami will absolutely need an All-Star effort from Butler each night. When Butler has scored 20 or more points in these playoffs, the Heat are 7-0. When he goes under that number, the Heat are 5-3.

Will guarding James wear Butler down and impact what he can contribute offensively? The answer to that question could ultimately decide the series.

Heat vs. Lakers schedule

(All times Eastern)

Date Game Time  National TV
Sept. 30 Game 1 9 p.m. ABC
Oct. 2 Game 2 9 p.m. ABC
Oct. 4 Game 3 7:30 p.m. ABC
Oct. 6 Game 4 9 p.m. ABC
Oct. 9 Game 5* 9 p.m. ABC
Oct. 11 Game 6* 7:30 p.m. ABC
Oct. 13 Game 7* 9 p.m. ABC

* If necessary

Heat vs. Lakers prediction

Lakers in six

As Butler himself put it, the Heat will have to play “damn near perfect” to beat the Lakers. If Miami pulls it off, don’t be surprised. This group has shown itself to be as connected, fearless and determined as any in the NBA.

The bet here is that James and Davis will propel Los Angeles to the championship, outperforming Butler and Adebayo and overcoming the limitations of the supporting cast. Then they will celebrate by saying, “We’re getting the hell out of Disney World.”

The NBA regular season started on Oct. 22, 2019. Almost a full year later, a champion will be crowned. Whether it’s the Heat or Lakers, they will have earned it, no asterisks necessary.


Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.

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