The Los Angeles Lakers are one win away from the NBA title and former player Jim Jackson says there is no one more reliable in a close-out situation than LeBron James.
Live NBA: Miami @ LA Lakers GM5
With a 3-1 series lead, the Lakers can secure their 17th championship with a Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat in the early hours of Saturday morning, live on Sky Sports Arena.
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With three NBA titles (and three Finals MVPs), James has been in this situation before. In these playoffs, his performances in close-out games have been phenomenal. He is averaging 34.3 points, 9.0 assists and 12.3 rebounds in the Lakers’ three series-concluding games against the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets.
NBA TV analyst Jackson, who played for 12 teams in his 14-year professional career, believes there is no one more reliable than James when it comes to closing out a playoff series,
“From the point the season restarted in the bubble, I have said the team ultimately going to win the championship will be the one that stays focused because the days were going to get monotonous and players were going to get tired of being in the bubble. Leadership, from a player perspective, was going to be really important,” he said.
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“Right now, we see the Los Angeles Lakers in position to win a championship. Why? LeBron James. His experience, his intelligence and understanding how to keep his guys locked in through the bubble period to stay laser-focused on the job at hand is critical. In a close-out game, who do you rely on? Somebody who has been there, done that. Rajon Rondo has been there. More importantly, so has LeBron James.
“(The Lakers) are on the cusp of doing something special. It is not going to be easy. This Heat team has something to prove, something to play for. There is nobody I would rather have in this situation today’s game than LeBron James when you have to close out a (series).”
Fellow analyst Channing Frye, who won a championship rring alongside James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, backed Jackson’s take also stressed the importance of the Lakers’ coaching staff heading into Game 5.
“The thing that people don’t mention is the coaching staff, Jason Kidd, Phil Handy,” he said. “Those guys are going to constantly be in the ear of the players who haven’t been in this position before, calming then down.
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“But LeBron and ‘AD’ (Anthony Davis) are the big horses and they are going to lead this carriage to a championship. I have been there when ‘Bron is locked in, it is a scary sight. I think in Game 4 he was trying to figure out how much energy he had left. That’s why he said it was one of his toughest games.
“But this game, it is all or nothing from now on. He is going to want to close the Miami Heat out and not give them any chance to come back.”
James will be able to count on Davis for high-level offense and defense in Game 5. Playing in his first Finals series, Davis is averaging 25.8 points per game, including 34- and 32-point outbursts in Games 1 and 2.
What does Jackson expect from Davis in Game 5? “More of the same thing, he said. “There will be adjustments from Miami’s defense on AD’s touches and they will try to get him in foul trouble.
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“But keep this in mind, the beauty of the LeBron/AD combination is that there is no pressure on one single player to carry the team. It’s not easy to go out and perform against the Miami Heat but when you have someone to help you carry your business, all the pressure isn’t on your back to carry the load.
“Look for Davis to get touches early, whether that is mid-range, at free throw line, pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll or transition because when he gets rolling early this Lakers team is really tough to stop and everybody else benefits.”
After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stepped up with two crucial late baskets to seal the Lakers’ 102-96 win in Game 4, Frye feels the Lakers’ role players will also play a big part iin allowing James and Davis to thrive in Game 5.
“It takes a lot of pressure off Davis, especially on the offensive end. Miami have been throwing double-teams at him on and off to throw off his rhythm when he is on the court,” he said.
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“Kyle Kuzma has been playing solid which is pretty amazing. Alex Caruso has been another very solid guy. Danny Green has been on and off but his defense has been there.
“To me, Markieff Morris has been the biggest surprise, coming in with his physicality, allowing coach to start him in the second half of games. He is being physical, he can switch, he talks and he makes the right plays. I haven’t seen him shoot this many threes in a long time but he has been letting them go.”
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