Anthony Davis, Lakers cool down the Heat

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

It’s in the Staples Center rafters where you’ll find 16 championship banners belonging to a storied L.A. franchise. There has been a lot of history for this team as a result, and some true legends have worn the Lakers’ uniforms. There is an elite level of confidence that is brimming from the tag-team duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Lakers, up 1-0 to the blazing hot Miami Heat, are looking to hang up a 17th banner in the coming days. In traditional fashion, the Lakers came away with a series-opening 116-98 victory over the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night. Prior to the series starting, the Lakers earned the status of top dogs and lived up to their billing. It’s still early and it’s the first to win four, but they’re on track to complete a sweep of the Heat.

This team’s fate is likely to hinge on James, who will be 36 in December. And perhaps it’s Davis, whose presence and elite skills is taking the pressure off a veteran like James. Nobody had a more remarkable season for the Lakers than Davis. The seven-time All Star instantly made the Lakers a threat in a very competitive Western Conference. The all-around big man piled up 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks to lead L.A. Nobody has had a more brilliant postseason for the Lakers than James. The four-time MVP is already regarded by many as one of the greatest players in franchise history. The locomotive-powered freight train tallied 25 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.

This is something we’ve seen before from James, now playing in his 50th Finals game of his luminous career. But a bright spot in an otherwise outstanding performance, Davis looked as good as he has throughout the playoffs. His postseason story is certainly one that will live on in Lakers lore eternally. It’s now through James and Davis that the Lakers’ legacy continues to be told. To get here, the Lakers have relied on the strong play from Davis to fortify an already-solid offense. He was explosive and unstoppable, with the ability to force his way to the basket, absorb plenty of contact and score a bucket from anywhere, against anyone. This team certainly has the physical characteristics of a title contender, with James and Davis.

The Lakers outscored the Heat by 23 points with Davis on the floor. There’s a reason he’s been so often in Finals MVP conversations. He’s a phenomenon on the court. He’s a beast on the court. The challenge, if anything, is different this time, and it’s entirely because of who they’re facing. That’s scary for the Lakers, but they’re well-constructed to overpower a top-heavy Miami team. Time and time again, the Heat have reminded everyone they’re a tough out for anybody, so this series is far from being over.

The Lakers’ run to the Finals is a monumental, overwhelming, breathtaking success. Once again, James was dazzling to begin the series, as expected. And yet while Miami’s Jae Crowder tried to wrestle with James, it’s obvious that James won that battle. Both of them hit the floor, scrambling for a loose ball and, after the whistle, Crowder snatched the ball away from James. They exchanged words, and Davis stepped in between Crowder and James.

And yet still, a fearless James utilized his size and strength to muscle his way into the paint, and finish over and around the basket. He dribbled as fast as he could up the floor and found the open man as he drew in Heat defenders. The supporting cast looked as inspired as we’ve seen now and then since the start of the playoffs, when they took on a scary Blazers team, a potent Rockets team and a scrappy Nuggets team. The Lakers got double-digit scoring from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Alex Caruso.

When the Lakers come out with great focus and lots of energy, there isn’t a team in the NBA that can keep up with them, as was evidenced by their inspired play on Wednesday night. After a quiet start early, the Lakers turned it on in a big way, and the Heat quickly saw a 25-12 lead disappear. Everything changed for the Lakers when they finally settled in and regained control by the end of the first quarter. It happened because of a team effort on both ends of the floor. With size and depth, they controlled the glass and outrebounded the Heat 54-36.

Trailing by as many as 12, the Lakers still managed to outscore the Heat 75-30. The reason they closed out the opening frame strong, though, is because they went on a 19-3 run. This isn’t a very good three-point shooting team. But this, more than anything, is why they shot the ball efficiently. It was a different ballgame when the Lakers went on a shooting binge, going 9-for-11 on threes in the final 16 minutes of the first half.

The players around James and Davis made a collective effort to make all the timely shots on basketball’s brightest stage. Caldwell-Pope, equipped to weaponize the Lakers’ bench, quickly went to work and give them a sorely needed boost. His game itself isn’t that bad, if and when he’s put together the kind of production on both ends of the floor that creates momentum. He demonstrated his aptitude as a streaky shooter, with back-to-back threes late in the first quarter. It was Caruso who drained a three with 4.2 seconds remaining to give the Lakers a 31-28 lead they did not squander.

If they play like this the rest of the way, you can rest assured that the Lakers will outgun the Heat. They’re going to have to grind and put in the work, against Jimmy Butler and his army of shooters who don’t quit, not ever. But there would be no stopping Davis, who dominated the game from start to finish and had his way against Miami, essentially doing anything he pleased and getting any shot he wanted, when he wanted. Playing on the  stage in his Finals debut, it was Davis’ moment to be legendary.

This Heat team hasn’t dialed up its best answer for Davis. The physical characteristics he exhibits adds to his value, his great size and length presents problems for anyone trying to stop him from getting his shots. He put up another monster stat line that should come as no surprise.

Injuries became a major storyline in Game 1, with Butler twisting his ankle on a strong drive to the basket late in the second quarter. There’s a general belief that the Lakers are going to win the series four games to none, now that the injury-riddled Heat are likely without starters Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo. But even without a pair of role players, Miami still has Butler, and the Lakers cannot afford to let up. They damn sure better not. So yeah, Game 2 is an absolute must-have.

The Heat, taking on the role of Cinderella, are not scared of the Lakers. But still, there’s no reason why the Lakers can’t beat Miami. It seems as though nobody can beat them. They have plenty of star power, depth, size and strength, starting with James and Davis, and then the rest of the cast.

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