The end is nigh.
It was exactly a year ago that the Lakers boarded a flight to China — a flight that didn’t have any Wi-Fi — and landed in the middle of a geopolitical maelstrom neither they nor the league quite knew how to handle.
Those who experienced the trip to China might have thought nothing could be more bizarre, but they would have been wrong.
The Lakers lead the Heat, 3-1, in a series that, like the rest of the playoffs, has been held entirely on an enclosed campus at Disney World. No players or team personnel have tested positive for COVID-19 in months, according to the NBA, even though some people with access to the campus have.
The bottom line is, the league is days away from having pulled off a pandemic bubble and then having to turn its attention to what they’ll do next season.
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 102-96 win over the Heat:
1. There may come a time when a team will take an ugly win. That idea of always trying to improve and attempting to achieve greatness — how salient is it really when you win an ugly game to bring you one win from a championship? Or when you win an ugly game to win a championship? The Lakers did that in 2010 and savored every moment of it. I posted this question to James, who offered this explanation: “You never stop striving to be perfect or be great,” James said. “And you know that a perfect game is not going to happen, but that don't mean you still don't strive to be as great as you can be every night.
“Now, every game has its own adjustments and things of that nature, and tonight was one of those games where we had to win on the defensive end and make some timely shots. But I think when you start thinking like, 'OK, well, I can't be great tonight or we can't be great tonight, OK, we just have to figure it out,' then you sell yourself short. Me personally, I would never do that.”
2. We have a controversy (not really) brewing about how much James sleeps. After Game 2, he posted on Twitter that he couldn’t sleep, and after Game 4 he again brought up the fact that he wasn’t sleeping — he didn’t need to sleep. “At this point in the season, I don't care about rest,” James said. “I really don't. I don't care about sleep. I don't care about resting throughout the game.” Which is all well and good, except Anthony Davis once described James as someone who slept more than anyone he knew. And James himself mentioned a post-meeting nap he took on Tuesday. Sleep is one of the secrets to his recovery. Is he actually making time for crucial rest now? We may never know.
3. The Lakers have liked to say they never want to lose two games in a row. They went a very long time in the regular season without doing it — their first back-to-back losses came during a four-game losing streak in December. In all, they were 12-6 after a loss during the regular season. In the playoffs, they’ve fared better. They are now 4-0 after a playoff loss this season, having won every series in five games.
4. James finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, which made this James’ 24th Finals game with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. It’s the greatest number of times any player has done that — the previous record was held by Elgin Baylor. During Game 3, James passed John Stockton for second on the NBA’s all-time playoff assist list.
5. At a certain point during the game, the Lakers called a timeout and Rajon Rondo wandered to the coaches' huddle to offer an opinion. To look at Rondo's offensive numbers doesn’t paint the full picture of his contributions. Similarly, the impact of Davis’ defense shined through on the stat sheet in the form of his plus/minus rating. He was the only Lakers player with a positive, double-digit plus/minus at 17. Rondo was second, tied with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, with a plus/minus of eight.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.