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NBA Finals Takeaways: No asterisk for Lakers as LeBron adds fuel to GOAT debate – Sportsnet.ca

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The Los Angeles Lakers are the 2020 NBA champions, defeating the Miami Heat 106-93 Sunday evening to clinch the title in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

LeBron James led the way for the Lakers with a 28-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist triple-double and was named Finals MVP for the fourth time in his career as he won his fourth title with his third different team.

During these Finals, James had perhaps his greatest championship-series performance of his career. He averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game on outstanding 59.1 per cent shooting from the floor and a 41.7 per cent mark from three-point range.

This is the 17th championship in Lakers franchise history and it came in a season of great unrest for the team, as the club began the season playing exhibition contests in China amidst the controversy between the NBA and the Chinese government over a deleted tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong protesters.

Then, on Jan. 26, tragedy struck not just the Lakers but the entire basketball world when franchise icon Kobe Bryant tragically lost his life, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash.

In the aftermath of this, the theme of the Lakers’ season became one of honouring Bryant’s memory by doing what he did best: bringing a title home to the Lakers faithful.

It was ultimately mission accomplished for Los Angeles, but it took a long time to get there.

The 2019-20 NBA season was the longest recorded in NBA history, lasting 380 days because of the mid-season suspension due to the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic.

A happy coincidental result of this is that last season’s champions, the Toronto Raptors, have the record for being the longest-reigning defending champs in league history at 486 days – a record that probably will never be broken lest the league has to shut down again for a lengthy period of time.

But the season concluded at long last nearly a full calendar year after it started and the Lakers, after big expectations with the acquisition of Anthony Davis to pair up with James, fulfilled their promise to Bryant and made good on many pre-season prognosticators’ championship predictions, by standing alone on top of the mountain.

Here are a few takeaways from both Game 6 and the seasons of the Lakers and Heat at large.

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No asterisk here

At the beginning of this grand bubble experiment, there was a notion that somehow the champion crowned at the end of this road wouldn’t be as legitimate because of the extraordinary circumstances of the season’s pause and then rapid resumption.

But there’s an argument to made that for the Lakers to come into this environment and win it all is even more impressive than in normal circumstances. The seeding games were stripped of the league’s worst teams, there were the usual four rounds of playoffs and the extreme isolation and the general mental toll of playing in the bubble only would have added to the difficulty.

No, there was no travel involved because of the bubble, but other than that there were no inherent advantages to be found in Disney World.

Home-court advantage didn’t exist and, obviously, the comforts of home just couldn’t all be provided. All there was to do was play basketball, and the best team really did win.

All season long the Lakers had the weight of expectations on their shoulders, a burden that was made heavier when they entered the bubble and the spotlight of the playoffs was just on the horizon.

Between the mental toll of isolation in the bubble, exploding cases of COVID outside of it and, of course, the ongoing fight against racial injustice and police brutality that continues to rage on, it took a special kind of mental toughness to try to play at the kind of level needed to even reach the Finals.

And to win it all took even more.

The Lakers deserve all the praise that is coming their way and more.

So, on second thought, maybe there should be an asterisk attached to this title. An asterisk to acknowledge that the 2019-20 Lakers may have just earned the toughest Larry O’Brien Trophy ever handed out.

GOAT debate now hotter than ever

The hottest piece of barber shop talk just added lighter fuel to the already out-of-control bonfire that is the debate of greatest basketball player of all time between James or Michael Jordan.

The Last Dance was an excellent reminder of just the kind of basketball god Jordan actually was, but with LeBron winning his fourth title, now the supposed separation between Jordan and James has shrunk that much more.

James and Jordan are now the only players in NBA history with at least four regular-season and Finals MVP awards. While Jordan has two more rings, with Davis playing alongside James and James himself only looking to get better the older he gets, who’s to say he can’t catch Jordan’s magical number of six titles?

At the moment, it certainly looks like those two extra rings Jordan has are the only things the former Bulls great has over James, and a scenario where that gap closes is certainly in sight.

Jimmy deserved more love

James was deservedly a unanimous selection for Finals MVP, but me, personally, if I had a say, I’d have voted for the Heat’s Jimmy Butler.

Butler didn’t have a good Game 6 as he only scored 12 points, but for the series he averaged 26.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.2 steals on 55.2 per cent shooting. That stat line included a couple of triple-double performances in Games 3 and 5 that will go down in NBA Finals history as games where he not only put up huge numbers, but willed his team to victories it had no business winning due to injuries and inferior talent.

Butler was the sole reason Miami made a series of this thing in the first place and, like old Lakers great Jerry West trying to slay the mighty Boston Celtics, should’ve been recognized for doing so with at least a couple Finals MVP votes, if not to win it himself.

Heat too hobbled, Lakers too talented

In the end, the better team won the day.

For all of Butler’s heroics, the Heat were simply too disadvantaged right from the jump when Bam Adebayo had to miss two games with a neck injury. Goran Dragic only managed to play 14:50 of Game 1 before being forced out of the lineup with a torn plantar fascia in his foot before deciding to give it a try in vain in Game 6.

Those injuries alone doomed Miami’s chances, especially because the Finals stage at times looked too big for key role players Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson.

Still, though, even if Adebayo and Dragic had been healthy there’s no telling how things would have gone. Los Angeles’ overall talent with the two best players in the series in James and Davis, and the veteran savvy the club boasted – with players like Rajon Rondo, who has now won a title with both the Celtics and Lakers and Danny Green, who has won his third title with his third different team – may have just overwhelmed Miami anyway.

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NBA Considering Two-Week Midseason Break With All-Star Game Likely Canceled – RealGM.com

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The NBA is considering a two-week break at the midway point of the 20-21 season as there almost certainly won’t be an All-Star Weekend as scheduled in Indianapolis.

The NBA is proposing a 72-game regular season and a play-in tournament ahead of the playoffs.

The league played their All-Star Game during the lockout-shortened 11-12 season on February 26th, 2012.

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NBA Targeting Dec. 22 Start, 72-Game Schedule With Finals Over By Olympics – RealGM.com

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The NBA is targeting Tuesday, December 22nd for the start of the 20-21 season with a 72-game regular season that finishes before the 2021 Olympics begin on July 23rd. The league has started the season on a Tuesday in recent years with a doubleheader on TNT. Christmas Day falls on a Friday this year and would likely feature a full slate of games throughout the day on ABC, ESPN and TNT.

Beginning the 20-21 season around Christmas Day would allow the league to return to a semi-normal schedule while potentially allowing stars to play in the Olympics. 

“It may be too quick, but it also makes too much sense,” one high-ranking team official told The Athletic.

The NBA still prefers in-market play for the 20-21 season instead of a bubble or multiple bubbles.

There has been more support for a quicker than previously planned turnaround because it allows the league to return to its typical schedule and will generate more revenue. 

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Ravens acquire Yannick Ngakoue from Vikings – theScore

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The Baltimore Ravens acquired defensive end Yannick Ngakoue from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Ngakoue’s tenure with the Vikings lasted just six games after the Jacksonville Jaguars dealt him to Minnesota this offseason for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round selection.

The star pass-rusher will fly to Baltimore in the next 24 hours to complete COVID-19 testing so he can join his new team next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Schefter adds. The Ravens have a bye in the upcoming Week 7.

Ngakoue has been a target of general manager Eric DeCosta for a while now, as Baltimore attempted to acquire him multiple times in recent months. The defender grew up in Bowie, Maryland and went to Maryland college before the Jaguars made him their third-round pick in 2016.

“We are excited to add Yannick Ngakoue to our football team,” DeCosta said, according to Sirius XM’s Adam Caplan. “Yannick is someone who we are very familiar with going back to the draft process years ago. He is an exciting player and a dangerous pass-rusher who makes us better.”

Pass-rush depth was viewed as a major need for the Ravens despite ranking second league-wide with 22 sacks. Ngakoue should start opposite Matt Judon at outside linebacker, with Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, and Jaylon Ferguson in the rotation.

The 25-year-old notched five sacks across six games with the Vikings. He’s accumulated at least eight quarterback takedowns every year since entering the NFL.

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