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How Heat, Lakers pivoted two seasons after NBA Finals run in Orlando bubble

The two title contenders meet Wednesday in a rematch of the 2020 Finals.

2020 NBA Finals - Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during Game Six of the NBA Finals on October 11, 2020 in Orlando, Florida at AdventHealth Arena.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 NBA Finals 4-2 over the Miami Heat in the Orlando bubble, concluding a grueling stretch of condensed basketball action for both teams after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the regular season in March. The Lakers were expected to be title contenders that season, while the Heat used their tenacious defense and hot shooting to make a surprise run in the bubble. It was unclear how much both teams would pivot after the bubble run in the following season.

Both groups ran back largely similar rosters in 2020-21, and it wasn’t great for either team. The Heat finished as the No. 6 seed and got swept by the Milwaukee Bucks, the team they beat in the bubble run. The Lakers barely avoided the play-in tournament as the West’s No. 7 seed before flaming out in the first round against the Phoenix Suns. It was time for an offseason of change.

The Lakers maintained their star tandem of LeBron James and Anthony Davis but decided to cut bait with the rest of the roster. The team clearly lacked three-point shooting in the 2020-21 playoffs, so LA added some marksmen in Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers also brought back bubble veterans Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard.

The biggest acquisition was Russell Westbrook, a third star who could shoulder the offensive load during the regular season as James and Davis got more rest days. It’s been a tough transition through 10 games but the signs of a contender are there. The Lakers are fifth in points per game, seventh in field goal percentage and sixth in three-point percentage through 11 games.

Miami’s offseason was less dramatic but followed a similar script. The Heat kept the Jimmy Butler-Bam Adebayo partnership intact while swinging a key sign-and-trade deal for point guard Kyle Lowry. His numbers are somewhat diminished across the board, although his 103 defensive rating is among the best for point guards in the league. Miami also brought back sharpshooter Duncan Robinson on a long-term deal before grabbing PJ Tucker away from the Bucks.

The Heat also have Victor Oladipo in the mix, although it’s unclear if the guard will get on the floor this season. If he comes back, this already dangerous roster becomes even more potent. Miami has also been rewarded for being patient with Tyler Herro, who is the clear frontrunner for Most Improved Player according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

The Lakers and Heat have always swung for championships, not settling for sustained postseason success. It was clear for both organizations another summer of staying put wouldn’t cut it. These are two of the league’s most successful franchises in recent memory, making the Finals a combined 14 times since the 1999-00 season. When the teams meet Wednesday, we’ll see firsthand how those changes have made both contenders once again.