Lakers-Heat 2020 NBA Finals Game 1 prop bets: Expect LeBron James to take advantage of Miami’s zone defense

The NBA Finals aren’t quite the Super Bowl. There are no Gatorade or coin toss props for you to choose from. But as an NBA gambler, it really doesn’t get better than this. Virtually every rotation player has a couple of individual props on the board, and with such a large sample of bubble games to draw from, many of them are fairly predictable winners. 

A tip: Think strategically about how you expect the series to play out, and let that dictate your props. Are the Heat going to play a lot of zone? Then which Lakers players are best equipped to attack it? Will the Lakers go big? Which smaller Heat players benefit from that? Coaching is as important as individual performance at this stage of the postseason. Erik Spoelstra and Frank Vogel will go a long way in determining who posts big numbers in this series. They are at the forefront of Game 1’s best prop bets. 

All lines via William Hill Sportsbook

The Lakers will have to work hard to generate transition offense against a Miami team that was 27th in pace this season and has one of the best transition defenses in basketball. Assuming they play big in Game 1 (a strategy that could change as the series progresses), letting Davis leak out on Heat shots rather than focusing on rebounding is one of their preferred methods of stealing easy points. Davis had only 12 combined rebounds in the last three Denver games, and this was a big reason why. When the Lakers have a center in the game, as they largely did in that series, they can afford to treat Davis’ rebounding as a luxury. 

The likeliest defensive alignment for the Lakers includes LeBron James starting Game 1 defending Jae Crowder. Crowder is no slouch, but the Lakers prefer to stick LeBron on lesser threats so that he can focus on playing his stellar help defense. That works for them in the aggregate, but it will probably lead to some open 3-pointers for Crowder. He isn’t the 45 percent shooter he was during the regular season or early rounds with the Heat, but he isn’t going to shoot 18 percent in this series as he did in the final five Boston games either. Expect a bounce-back effort from Crowder, and an important one for the Heat. If Crowder can force James to defend him more aggressively, it opens up several other things for the Heat. 

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The Laker stars are going to have different ways of attacking the Miami zone. Anthony Davis is going to fire away from mid-range. LeBron, an inconsistent jump shooter, will prefer to pass the zone to death. Zones are susceptible to precise ball movement, and James is already averaging 8.9 assists per game this postseason. Against a defense that will ask him to pass instead of shoot, that number should rise. 

If there’s any prop on this list that’s going to make me look foolish, it’s this one. Herro has been defying rookie norms throughout this entire playoff run, but this is the Finals. Nobody would blame him from looking across the court during warmups and realizing “Oh my God, that’s LeBron James over there.” Nothing is going to slow Herro down for long, but asking him to come out of the gates firing so quickly is unrealistic. Only one 20-year-old has ever topped 15 points in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. That would be Magic Johnson, who scored 16. Herro has a very bright future, but I feel pretty safe in saying he won’t be Magic Johnson. 

The Heat zone begs players like Rondo to shoot, and he’s done so successfully this postseason. He’s 13 of 29 (44.8 percent) on 3-pointers with a defender at least four feet away in 10 playoff games. It’s a safe bet that he’ll take a few of those in this one. Once he makes one, asking him to get to five extra points through transition, drives and free throws seems entirely attainable. Plus, let’s be honest, this is Playoff Rondo’s time to shine. He’s been waiting a decade to make it back to the Finals. 

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