LeBron James and Co. were one of the favorites to win the title all season long, and made their way through the Western Conference playoffs with little trouble, winning each series 4-1. Now, with just four more wins, the Lakers will tie the Boston Celtics for the most championships in NBA history at 17, and LeBron will earn ring No. 4. It's fitting, then, that as he chases another title, LeBron will have to go through his old team to get there.
The Heat entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the East, and are the first team seeded that low to make the Finals since the New York Knicks in 1999. Despite being the underdog in all three series they played, the Heat only lost three games along the way, dispatching the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics in an incredible run. Jimmy Butler has made an enormous impact in his first season with the club, but the Heat have also gotten huge contributions from budding young stars Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.
Los Angeles is a massive favorite ahead of the series, which isn't all that much of a surprise. After all, what the Heat have done in the playoffs has been incredible, but they don't have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Will those two be enough to get the Lakers another ring? Or do the Heat have one more upset in them? Our CBS Sports experts are leaning the Lakers' way, but it isn't unanimous. Check out all the picks below:
NBA Finals prediction, picks
Bill Reiter: Lakers in 6
There is much to like about the Miami Heat: Their defense, their 3-point shooting, the fact they have three different players who can beat you, and the fortitude they have shown in this Erik Spoelstra-infused basketball team. But the Lakers have LeBron James, and in the end, that will simply be enough. The man on a mission completes it against the dogged, unfriendly, and worthy competitor.
Jack Maloney: Lakers in 6
I'm not picking against LeBron James.
James Herbert: Heat in 6
If the Lakers can force turnovers, get out in transition, get to the line and bully the Heat on the glass, then they can win the title. I'm picking Miami because I'm not sure Los Angeles can continue to do all of that in this matchup. On offense, the Heat are similar to the Denver Nuggets -- who scored at a top-five rate against the Lakers -- but are armed with more playmakers on the perimeter. The bigger difference is on defense, where Miami is much more versatile than Los Angeles' last opponent, largely because of Bam Adebayo. In broad terms, the Heat can approach this the same way they approached the Milwaukee Bucks series: Make life difficult on the two stars, and try to contest the role players' shots as well as they can. The 2-3 zone that bothered the Boston Celtics could be useful here, too. Just stay out of foul trouble, Bam.
Colin Ward-Henninger: Lakers in 7
These teams will both be so well prepared and disciplined that ultimately the games will come down to individual performances. With the Nuggets, the Lakers only had to worry about containing two stars -- Miami is much deeper, with at least four players capable of putting up 30 points on any given night. That being said, the Lakers have the two best players in the series in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and we've seen how each of them can singlehandedly take games over in the fourth quarter. The Celtics stars weren't quite experienced enough to seize the moment, but the Lakers won't have that problem. It'll be a tight series, but in the end the Lakers will bring home the hardware.
Brad Botkin: Lakers in 7
There's an old basketball adage that if you have the best player, you have the advantage. Well, the Lakers have the two best players in this series. And that's why they'll win. Narrowly. Yes, Miami pressures the Lakers in multiple ways: Depth, shooting, legitimate defensive options vs. LeBron James (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala) and Anthony Davis (Adebayo), and the Heat have the collective ability to stunt down on drivers/double-team stars and still recover out to shooters. But I also think Miami could struggle like Denver did to keep the Lakers off the offensive glass with Bam having to pay so much attention to Davis on the perimeter, and Butler's non-shooting ways might finally hamstring Miami in late-game situations against a really solid defensive team in the Lakers. I'm almost certain this series will go at least six. I'm picking seven because I really believe it's something close to a toss-up. And in a toss-up, I'm breaking the tie with the two best players.
Jasmyn Wimbish: Lakers in 5
The Miami Heat have been incredibly impressive, and could prove me wrong with a seven-game series, or perhaps make quick work of the Lakers. But I don't think that'll happen, and I also don't think L.A. lets Miami hang around for very long in this series. In Game 5 against the Nuggets, LeBron James locked in defensively and slowed down Jamal Murray just as he was helping lead Denver back in the game. It proved that LeBron can absolutely flip a switch still and be the best player on the floor. When that happens — and it will in this series — the Lakers will be hard to beat.
Michael Kaskey-Blomain: Lakers in 6
The Heat might be the deeper team, but the Lakers have the two best players in the series in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and in the Finals that's often what it comes down to. Plus, while the Heat have a lot of key contributors making their first Finals appearance, the Lakers have a plethora of players with Finals experience including James, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, and Danny Green. That experience could be a difference-maker in the series.
Sam Quinn: Lakers in 7
Miami's shooting variance alone could push the Dream Team to six, and its stellar defense could pose a threat to any possible opponent. There are matchup advantages on both sides. The Lakers will have more success against Miami's zone than the Celtics did. The Heat have more wings to throw at LeBron than any defense this side of the Clippers. But at the end of the day, this comes down to one simple number. The Heat are only plus-seven across the first three quarters of their 15 playoff games ... but are plus-68 in the fourth. Nine of their 12 playoff wins came in NBA-defined clutch settings. After the past decade or so of NBA history ... do you really want to bet against LeBron in crunch time? I know I don't. The Heat will push the Lakers to the brink, but when winning time comes, the King will reclaim his throne.