Anthony Davis is set to sign a new five-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers worth $190million, according to an ESPN report. 

Davis helped the franchise win the NBA title in his first season since arriving as the centrepiece in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, as the 2019-20 season concluded in Orlando due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The seven-time All-Star opted out of the final year of his previous contract, making him a free agent. 

However, Davis was always expected to remain with the Lakers, who have also agreed terms on an extension with LeBron James. 

Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to reveal the news about Davis accepting a maximum offer that includes an opt-out clause for the fifth and final year, which would be the 2024-25 season. 

News broke of James agreeing a two-year, $85m extension on Wednesday, ahead of the four-time NBA MVP playing in a 17th season.

The first overall pick in 2012 by New Orleans, Davis averaged 26.1 points in the Lakers' title-winning campaign - the most by any team-mate of LeBron's when appearing in at least 70 per cent of games.

His numbers rose in the playoffs too, the 27-year-old averaging 27.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as the Lakers lifted the Larry O'Brien Trophy, a triumph sealed with a 4-2 series win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Davis' long-term deal comes towards the end of a busy offseason for the reigning champions.

As well as retaining their two superstars, Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol have all arrived to help bolster the roster.

The Lakers begin the defence of their crown on December 22, as they go up against Los Angeles rivals the Clippers on the opening day of the new season.

LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers will face city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers on the opening night of the 2020-21 NBA season.

The NBA announced its national TV schedule for the first three days of the season, with the Lakers-Clippers showdown part of a December 22 doubleheader.

The Lakers ended their 10-year wait for a title after topping the Miami Heat at Walt Disney World Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic, though this season is set to be played in a non-bubble environment.

James – who has agreed a two-year, $85million contract extension with the Lakers – became the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP award for three different teams, having also been crowned Most Valuable Player with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat, as he celebrated a fourth championship.

Kevin Durant is set to make his long-awaited debut for the Brooklyn Nets in a mouth-watering opening-night reunion with the Golden State Warriors, where he won two championships and as many Finals MVP awards.

Durant left the Warriors via free agency ahead of the 2019-20 season but he missed last term as he recovered from an Achilles injury, while Steph Curry and Golden State will be without Klay Thompson due to a ruptured Achilles, having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the 2019 Finals.

December 23 will see reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks face the Boston Celtics, while the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns go head-to-head.

Christmas Day will feature five games as NBA Finals participants the Miami Heat play the New Orleans Pelicans, the Lakers meet Luka Doncic's Mavericks, the Bucks do battle with the Warriors, first-year head coach Steve Nash and the Nets go up against the Celtics, while the Clippers will seek some sort of revenge against the Denver Nuggets.

The Clippers squandered a commanding lead in the Western Conference semi-finals as the Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series twice in the same postseason.

But a lot has changed for the Clippers, who parted ways with Doc Rivers and turned to championship-winning coach Tyronn Lue to deliver a maiden title to the franchise.

Los Angeles Lakers vice-president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said the NBA champions are ready to be "aggressive" in free agency.

Spearheaded by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers claimed their first title since 2010 after topping the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last month.

The drought-ending success at Walt Disney World Resort sparked celebrations but attention has already turned to 2020-21, with the season due to get underway before Christmas next month.

Dennis Schroder has already been acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Danny Green, and Pelinka insisted the Lakers are not prepared to rest on their laurels in pursuit of sustained success.

"Our approach will be to be aggressive," Pelinka, whose Lakers tied the longest postseason drought in NBA history that a tea mended by winning the title – matching the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers, said on Thursday. "I think there's a handful of teams that probably hope to contend or be in a position to contend.

"We're not going to just sit back and not expect others who are in position to try to better their roster or better their teams. So we have to stay aggressive.

"I think the danger of winning is complacency, and I won't -- we won't allow that to creep in here. We're going to try to improve our team and put head coach [Frank] Vogel and his staff in the best possible position to defend."

It remains to be seen whether JaVale McGee and Avery Bradley will exercise their player options to stay next season, while the future of star Davis is dominating headlines.

Davis – a blockbuster acquisition from the New Orleans Pelicans at the start of 2019-20 – reportedly opted out of the final year of his contract, though the championship winner is tipped to re-sign with the Lakers.

The seven-time All-Star, who has been linked with hometown team the Chicago Bulls, averaged 26.1 points, 9.3 points and 3.2 assists per game last season.

James, meanwhile, is under contract, along with the likes of Alex Caruso, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kyle Kuzma – who is eligible for an extension.

"When the time is right, we'll sit down and speak with them," said Pelinka. "But we're proud of drafting Kuz. We're incredibly proud of his growth as a player. I think he showed in the bubble his ability to play at the wing and the four -- so some three and some four.

"When you lose a defender and a wing player like Danny Green, I think Kyle, we're going to count on him to step in and play some of that wing role as well. But he has the versatility to do it. So he's been a great, great player for us and I would expect that he will continue to grow next season."

The new season is fast approaching and Pelinka added: "That'll just be a balancing act throughout the season. Recognising that there was an extremely short layoff between championship and the start of the season.

"Kind of figuring out what's best for LeBron, what's best for his health, the team's health, what's best for the league and kind of walking that carefully and thoughtfully throughout the year."

James appeared in 67 of the Lakers' 71 regular-season games before adding a fourth NBA ring to his collection and a fourth Finals MVP.

The 35-year-old averaged 25.3 points, 10.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2019-20.

After years of waiting and the loss of their favourite son in January, the Los Angeles Lakers finally returned to the summit of NBA basketball.

All eyes were on LeBron James and the Lakers in 2019-20 – the superstar veteran coming off a difficult first season in Los Angeles.

The Lakers also mourned the tragic death of five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant following a helicopter crash at the start of the year.

Add in a lengthy playoff drought, the coronavirus pandemic and Orlando bubble, and the Lakers' championship quest was far from easy.

However, the Western Conference top seeds – led by James and Anthony Davis – defied the ominous challenges to win their first title since 2010, seeing off the Miami Heat in six games at Walt Disney World Resort.

As the Lakers reflect on their memorable 17th championship to equal the Boston Celtics' all-time record, we review the team's 2019-20 campaign using Stats Perform data.

 

Equal longest drought snapped

The Lakers had missed the playoffs for six successive seasons prior to reigning supreme this campaign.

Not since 2013, when the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, had Los Angeles featured in the playoffs.

But the Lakers' success – behind James' 11th Finals triple-double in Game 6 – tied the longest postseason drought in NBA history that a team ended by winning the title, matching the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers.

LeBron and Davis make history

So much was expected of the Lakers duo when Davis finally swapped the New Orleans Pelicans for LA in a blockbuster trade at the start of the season.

James was desperate to team up with a genuine superstar at Staples Center after a forgettable first term in Los Angeles, where the former was hampered by form and fitness issues as Luke Walton departed following another season without a playoff appearance.

Davis' arrival and the appointment of Frank Vogel helped put the Lakers on track for silverware as city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers countered with their own superstar duo – Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

All-Star Davis and James became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each have 500-plus points and 200-plus rebounds in the same postseason.

James also became the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP award for three different teams, having also been crowned Most Valuable Player with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat, as he celebrated a fourth championship.

The Lakers also have history with ageing stars leading them to championships. The three oldest players ever to win the Finals MVP all did so while playing for the famed franchise – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38 years and 54 days) in 1985, James (35 years and 286 days) and Wilt Chamberlain (35 years and 260 days) in 1972.

 

Unheralded pair shine

With all the spotlight on James and Davis, Lakers team-mates Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee made significant contributions at centre, especially in the regular season.

Howard and McGee became the first pair of NBA team-mates to each have 75-plus blocks while shooting 60.0-plus per cent from the field in the same regular season since blocks became an official stat in 1973-74.

The return of 2004 number one pick Howard after a disappointing first spell in Los Angeles in 2012-13 proved a shrewd piece of business.

 

Lakers plagued by three-point issues

There was so much good about the Lakers in 2019-20, but their shooting from beyond the arc remains a problem.

The Lakers have shot under 35.0 per cent from three-point range in the regular season in each of the last six seasons, the longest active streak in the NBA.

That is also the longest streak for the Lakers since they shot under 35.0 per cent in seven consecutive seasons from 1979-80 to 1985-86, which was the first seven campaigns the three-point line was in existence.

The Lakers became the first team to with the title despite shooting a lower percentage from three-point range than their opponents in the playoffs since the 2000 LA team.

Frank Vogel hailed LeBron James as "the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen" after he inspired the Los Angeles Lakers to end their NBA title drought.

James claimed a triple-double of 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists as the Lakers cruised to a 106-93 Game 6 victory on Sunday to become NBA champions for the first time in a decade.

The legendary James was named NBA Finals MVP for the fourth time and became the first player to land that award for three different franchises.

James is now a four-time NBA champion and Lakers head coach Vogel ranks the 35-year-old as the best player of all time.

Asked about his decision to take the job in May 2019, when there was perceived to be uncertainty around the Lakers, Vogel said: "Well, there's not uncertainty in my mind with LeBron James.

"And [when] I took the job, we didn't have Anthony Davis. We didn't have the whole team. It was a different team after the fact.

"But I have always believed in LeBron James. He's the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen, and if you think you know, you don't know, okay, until you're around him every day, you're coaching him, you're seeing his mind, you're seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group. You think you know; you don't know.

"It's just been a remarkable experience coaching him and seeing him take this group that was not in the playoffs last year, the roster was put together overnight, and just taking a group and leading us to the promised land, so they say.

"He was terrific the entire season leading us, and I can't say enough about him."

Vogel paid tribute to the mental strength shown by his players since they entered the bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

He said: "Yeah, I've always believed in our mental toughness, and our experience. Not just LeBron, I believe Anthony Davis was destined to be a champion, and the pairing of the two of them together took us here.

"But the experience of the group, the IQ of the group, [Rajon] Rondo, Danny Green, JaVale McGee having been there, the talent level of the other guys, other guys willing to buy into starring in their roles.

"Just we had a strong belief in this group. When we got into the bubble, it was about focusing on the work, staying in the moment, focusing on day to day, and after one point - I don't know if there was really one point.

"I think beating Portland was a huge confidence booster for us because they were playing as well as anybody in the world. We know what Dame Lillard is capable of, and it just built from each series."

Anthony Davis opened up on how "respect" for and "true friendship" with LeBron James off the court built the foundations for the duo leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a record-equalling 17th NBA title.

The Lakers clinched a thrilling Finals 4-2 courtesy of a 106-93 defeat of the Miami Heat in Orlando in Sunday's Game 6, after which James was named series MVP.

Davis' first season in LA has been an unmitigated success and he averaged 25 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists during the Finals, as well as shooting 57.5 per cent from the field.

The prediction that the signing of Davis to play alongside superstar James would end the Lakers' 10-year title drought came to fruition and the former New Orleans Pelicans star says his relationship with his team-mate was key.

"[It's built on] respect. True friendship. Off the court – we're close on the court, but you've got to see us off the court. It's unreal. I'm always at his house. He's always at my house. This is true the entire season," Davis said.

"There's no jealousy. No one is envious of each other. Guys don't have personal agendas. We're just two guys who just want to win for various reasons. We were able to do it.

"And having a team who gets on us. Do [Rajon Rondo], Duds [Jared Dudley], all these guys are in our ear every single game about being great.

"When you've got a supporting cast like that, who make shots, and big shots for you, it makes our jobs a hell of a lot easier to go out there and just do what we do, knowing that if we have bad games, they pick us up. And if they are playing pretty bad, then we pick them up.

"We have a great team who trusts one another. It starts with me and Bron. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I challenge him. He challenges me. It's not always sweet and smooth, but it gets the job done.

"You're going to have confrontations and arguments throughout the season to win a championship. We had our fair share. But at the end of the day, we respect one another. We respect what each one is trying to do. I respect his game, he respects my game and we just put it all together."

Davis, who had 19 points, 15 rebounds and three assists in Game 6, is about to enter free agency and said, "I have no idea" and "I'm sure we'll figure it out" when probed about his future.

It seems unthinkable Davis will depart the Lakers and the 27-year-old spoke about the moment he realised he was part of a team capable of winning the championship.

"It was really after the first couple games of the regular season where we would start rolling – playing defense, scoring the basketball – and we realised how great of a team that we are and that we got enough to become champions this year," he added. 

"The entire time here in the bubble, he [James] never let us get too high, never get too low after losses. Just said, 'One game at a time'. And he knows what it takes on both sides, being up in a series and being down in a series and winning."

Towards the end of the game, Davis walked into the back with James chasing after his team-mate and the former revealed some light-hearted ribbing from the latter.

"I was 25 seconds from becoming a champion. I got emotional. It's the type of journey that I've been on, my team has been on, the organization has been on – it all came just full circle with this championship. So, I just got real emotional," he said.

"He [James] was bothering me, saying, 'You're soft. Oh, you cry baby'. I walked to the back, and there was a banner trophy. I kind of grabbed it. Then we walked back out to the court. It was an unbelievable feeling, and just an emotional moment for me."

LeBron James said doubters have fuelled his drive for success after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their first NBA championship since 2010.

James was crowned Finals MVP for a fourth time as the Lakers outclassed the Miami Heat 106-93 for a 4-2 series triumph at Walt Disney World Resort on Sunday.

Lakers superstar James celebrated a fourth league title after posting his 11th Finals triple-double of 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in Orlando, Florida.

It is his first championship with the Lakers, having struggled for form and fitness during his maiden season in Los Angeles in 2018-19.

James – who set the record for most postseason appearances with 260 – had a point to prove this season and the 35-year-old capped it with championship and MVP honours.

Often compared to Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan as his position among the greats is debated, James told reporters post-game: "I think personally thinking I have something to prove fuels me.

"It fuelled me over this last year and a half since the injury. It fuelled me because no matter what I've done in my career to this point, there's still little rumblings of doubt or comparing me to the history of the game and has he done this, has he done that.

"So having that in my head, having that in my mind, saying to myself, why not still have something to prove, I think it fuels me."

James is the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP with three different teams, having also received the honour with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, per Stats Perform.

In his 17th season, James moved clear of Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan with a fourth Finals MVP – now only trailing Michael Jordan (six).

James is the fourth player all-time to score 30,000-plus points and win four or more championships. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops the list with 38,387 points and six titles, ahead of Michael Jordan (32,292 points and six titles) and Kobe Bryant (33,643 points and five titles).

The Lakers' 17th championship came amid the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the 2019-20 season to be suspended in March before resuming behind closed doors inside the Orlando bubble in July.

James and the top-seeded Lakers overcame the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets and Heat en route to a memorable title.

"I can't sit here and say one is more challenging than the other or one is more difficult than the other," James said when asked to compare the difficulty of his championships. "I can just say that I've never won with this atmosphere. None of us have. We've never been a part of this. If you've been here throughout the start -- I mean, we got here July 9th. Our ballclub got here July 9th. It's October 11th now.

"So this was very challenging and difficult. It played with your mind. It played with your body. You're away from some of the things that you're so accustomed to make you be the professional that you are. This is right up there.

"I heard some rumblings from people that are not in the bubble, oh, you don't have to travel, whatever. People just doubting what goes on in here. This is right up there with one of the greatest accomplishments I've had."

James and fellow All-Star Anthony Davis combined to end the Lakers' wait for glory, with the latter tasting success for the first time in his maiden season since joining from the New Orleans Pelicans in a blockbuster deal at the start of the campaign.

"I can't really explain it," James replied when asked about his relationship with Davis. "There's just certain things you just know. And any type of relationship, you know that vibe. You have that respect. You have that drive. Sometimes you can't explain what links you with somebody, and then it's that organic.

"Sometimes, you don't even try to explain it. You guys ask me about my relationship with AD, the first thing I think about is the respect, the no ego, the challenging each other. We want each other to be better than actually ourselves.

"I want AD to be better than me. AD want me to be better than him. Every single night, every single day. And we challenge ourselves. I think that's a part of it."

The LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers annihilated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to claim their first championship since 2010.

Jimmy Butler and Miami delayed the Lakers' title celebrations by winning Game 5 to stave off elimination at Walt Disney World on Friday.

But there was no denying the red-hot Lakers on Sunday as the storied franchise ended their 10-year wait for glory with a 4-2 series victory in Orlando, Florida.

James – who broke the record for most playoff appearances with 260 – captured a fourth NBA title after posting his 11th Finals triple-double of 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, while Anthony Davis (19 points and 15 rebounds) had a double-double for his maiden championship.

The Heat were buoyed by the return of star guard Goran Dragic (5 points), who made his comeback from a foot injury, which had sidelined him since Game 1.

But Miami were outplayed from the outset as the Lakers extinguished the Heat with a defensive masterclass.

The Lakers made a hot start, leading 28-20 at the end of the first quarter behind James' nine points, five rebounds and three assists.

Los Angeles showed no mercy as they took a comprehensive 64-36 lead into half-time – 15 points apiece from Davis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17 points) fuelling the Lakers.

Rajon Rondo (19 points) dazzled off the bench, managing 13 points on six-of-six shooting from the field while he made his only three-point attempt.

It came as no Heat player scored double-digit points through two quarters.

While the Heat were only outscored by a point in the third quarter, the damage was already done as the Lakers cruised to their 17th NBA championship following a season which saw franchise great Kobe Bryant tragically killed in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter in January.

Bam Adebayo led the steamrolled Heat with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Butler put up 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

The Los Angeles Lakers claimed their first championship since 2010 and LeBron James won a fourth title after comprehensively sealing a 4-2 series victory over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Anthony Davis insists he will be ready for Game 6 of the NBA Finals despite aggravating a heel injury in the Los Angeles Lakers' Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat. 

Davis appeared to sustain an injury in the first quarter of the Lakers' 111-108 defeat in Orlando, which saw them fail to clinch a 17th NBA title in franchise history. 

They will have another chance to do so on Sunday and the seven-time All-Star expects to be healthy as the Lakers aim to close out the series at the second attempt. 

Explaining his injury, Davis said: "Iggy [Andre Iguodala] kind of stepped on it. Re-aggravated it. But I'll be fine on Sunday. 

"It happened in the last series against Denver. I think it was Game 5 if I'm not mistaken. Iggy just re-aggravated it. Went out the end of the first and it just kind of just wore off and got back to normal. 

"Just kept moving around. Just trying not to sit down. Get that adrenaline going and I was able to keep going and keep playing." 

Asked about the pressure the Lakers face going into Game 6 against a motivated Heat team, Davis replied: "I mean, there's no pressure. We're motivated too. 

"We are motivated to win a championship just as they are motivated. You've got two teams who want to compete. They feel like they have to win every game. We feel like we have to win. We're motivated as well to finish this thing off and hoist that trophy just as bad as them. 

"It's about execution. Like I say, it's plays that we broke down too many times defensively. If we don't have those plays, it's a different game. 

"We have to be better on the defensive end and take care of what we've got to take care of. Duncan Robinson came up too many times wide open. Two four-point plays. Offensive rebounds. Stuff that we can control. 

"We're motivated to win Game 6 and they are motivated to win Game 6. It's not going to be easy, but we expect to win."

Jimmy Butler was instrumental again with a 35-point triple-double as the Miami Heat prevailed 111-108 in a breathtaking Game 5 to put the Los Angeles Lakers' NBA championship party on ice.

The Heat trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals and faced elimination heading into Friday's showdown at Walt Disney World Resort, where LeBron James' Lakers were looking to seal a first title since 2010.

But Butler had other ideas, finishing with 12 rebounds and 11 assists to help the rallying Heat stay alive and force a Game 6 in the best-of-seven series in Orlando, Florida on Sunday.

Butler became the first player with a 35-point triple-double in the NBA Finals when facing elimination since James Worthy in 1988 Game 7, according to Stats Perform.

James – who had 40 points and 13 rebounds – also became the first player to post 40-plus points in a loss with a chance to clinch in the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan in Game 5 in 1993, per Stats Perform.

Heat star Butler and James went head-to-head in stunning fashion, and the former came out on top down the stretch, which featured seven lead changes during the final three minutes.

The Lakers had trailed for most of the game, having not led since the first quarter, but they moved ahead 97-96 on a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three-pointer with just over six minutes remaining.

But with their backs against the wall, the Heat never surrendered as Butler and Duncan Robinson (26 points) continued to step up in clutch moments.

Robinson made a pair of three-pointers in the final period, including a huge 27-foot jumper from beyond the arc to give the Heat a 101-99 lead before James levelled things up again with back-to-back free throws.

It was box office entertainment as Butler and James traded shots, while Anthony Davis' two had the Lakers up 108-107 with 21.8 seconds on the clock.

However, Butler made a pair of free throws to restore Miami's advantage 16.8 seconds from the end before team-mate Tyler Herro also nailed both of his free throws to seal victory.

Davis put up 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, but struggled late in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury.

In an unprecedented year, it is nice to know that some things remain the same – LeBron James is on the verge of making history.  

With his Los Angeles Lakers leading the NBA Finals 3-1 entering Friday's Game 5 against the Miami Heat, the 35-year-old forward appears likely to win his fourth championship, adding to an impossibly long list of career accomplishments.  

But James also has a chance to win another Finals MVP award, a distinction that could cement his legacy as one of the two best players in NBA history.  

James has won Finals MVP in each of his three title runs in 2012, 2013 and 2016, and is in a class with Magic Johnson Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal with three such awards.  

With a fourth Finals MVP, James would trail only Michael Jordan and his six. James would also become the first player to win Finals MVP honours with three different teams – perhaps a fitting distinction for the man who ushered a new era of player movement in 2010 when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami.  

But what of Anthony Davis, an All-NBA performer and perhaps James' best team-mate of his career?  

Davis is the Lakers' leading scorer this postseason with 28.2 points per game. He knocked down a three-pointer and blocked a Jimmy Butler layup in the last 40 seconds of Tuesday's 102-96 victory in Game 4.  

Davis has been incredible since joining from the New Orleans Pelicans, but James is still the most vital component in the Lakers' superpowered engine and the primary reason Los Angeles are on the cusp of winning their 17th NBA title and first since 2010.  

James has increased his scoring on the NBA's biggest stage, averaging 27.8 points in the Finals and scoring at least 25 in each game. Davis, on the other hand, scored 28.8 points per game in the Western Conference playoffs but is down to 25.8 per game in the Finals after 15- and 22-point performances in Games 3 and 4.  

James also has better numbers cleaning the glass than Davis in the Finals, averaging 11.0 rebounds per game to Davis' 9.3.  

But James' greatest attribute may be his ability to elevate his team-mates. The NBA's regular-season assist leader at 10.2 per game, James has recorded an assist on 51 of Davis' 189 made field goals this postseason.  

The Lakers' point differential per 100 possessions this postseason with James on the court is +10.5. Without James on the court in these playoffs, the Lakers have a -2.9 differential per 100 possessions – a net difference of 13.4.  

Davis is still very important with a net difference of 9.8 (+9.6 on the court; -0.2 off), but the Lakers are better equipped to play without him than James.  

And while there is plenty of objective evidence to support James' case to win Finals MVP, his story and career arc may also play a role in the eyes of the 11 beat writers and national media members who vote for the award.  

James is averaging 26.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game in the playoffs and is on the cusp of joining Larry Bird as the only players to win a championship while averaging at least 25-8-8 over the course of the playoffs.  

James is already the all-time postseason leader in points (7,423), minutes (10,729), field goals (2,643), free throws (1,730) and steals (441). On Friday, he will play in his 259th career playoff game, tying him with Derek Fisher for the most all-time.  

Despite playing at the end of his 17th NBA season, James has shown few signs of his production falling. His 512 points this postseason are the most ever by a player at least 35 years old. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only other player to even have 400 in a single playoff run at that age.  

Simply put, James is doing far more at an advanced age than any player in NBA history.  

The case for James does not diminish the enormous contributions of Davis, without whom the Lakers went 37-45 last season. But with one more win against the Heat – whether it comes in Friday's Game 5 or is delayed – James will likely be crowned Finals MVP, adding yet another feather to his already crowded cap.  

LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers to within one game of their first NBA Championship in a decade after girinding out a 102-96 game four win against the Miami Heat.

James was restricted to eight points in a closely-contested first half but the ex-Miami superstar put up 20 second-half points to record a game-high 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to send Los Angeles 3-1 ahead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series.

Anthony Davis (22 points) played a key supporting role, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (15 points) made a pair of clutch fourth-quarter plays that extended the lead from two points to seven with two minutes to play.

Miami’s Jimmy Butler backed up his sensational game three performance by leading his team in scoring with 22 points, while rookie Tyler Herro (21 points) and Duncan Robinson (17 points) help keep the Heat’s chances alive in Orlando, Florida.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James hailed Jimmy Butler after fuelling the Miami Heat's 115-104 win in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Butler carried the load for the short-handed Heat, posting 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds as Miami reduced the Lakers' lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series at Walt Disney World Resort on Sunday.

Heat star Butler became the first player with 40-plus points and 12-plus assists in an NBA Finals game since Jerry West in 1969, per Stats Perform.

Butler also joined James (2015) and West (1969) as the only players in NBA history to record a 40-plus point triple-double in the Finals.

"I thought Jimmy was phenomenal," James, who led the underwhelming Lakers with 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, said afterwards. "He did everything that they needed him to do tonight and he came through big time in a big-time game.

"We'll watch film and see ways we can be better going into Game 4. But I thought he was great."

Butler and Lakers superstar James went head-to-head throughout in Orlando, Florida.

There were verbal exchanges between James and Butler, with both heard saying "you're in trouble" in the first and fourth quarters.

Asked if he enjoys playing against Butler, James replied: "Love it. Love it. One of the best competitors we have in our game. We love that opportunity.

"For me personally, I don't know how many more opportunities I'm going to have, so to be able to go against a fierce competitor like that is something I'll look back on when I'm done playing. I'll miss those moments."

The Lakers struggled from the outset, falling behind 22-9 early in the opening quarter as Anthony Davis' headlined their woes.

Davis – scoreless in the opening period – posted five turnovers and four fouls, finishing with just 15 points against the red-hot Heat, while James had eight turnovers as the Lakers tallied 19 overall.

"We know that we can't turn the ball over versus this team," three-time champion James said. "They are very active defensively. It starts with myself, being the starting point guard of the team, having five first-half turnovers, eight total for the game. Can't do that, obviously, because it gives them more possessions and doesn't allow us to set our defense.

"They are really, really good offensively, so you just can't turn the ball over against that team. I take full responsibility for that."

On Davis, James added: "He got into some foul trouble. One of the shots he made when he had four fouls, they still tried to slide underneath him and get him a fifth in the third.

"I think the foul trouble made him a little passive, because he wanted to be out on the floor but he couldn't be his aggressive self offensively and defensively. I think the fouls slowed him down a lot tonight."

Jimmy Butler produced a remarkable triple-double performance as the injury-hit Miami Heat stayed alive in the NBA Finals with a 115-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Without injured duo Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic and trailing 2-0 in the best-of-seven Finals, the Heat had their backs against the wall amid suggestions they could be swept by the Lakers in Orlando, Florida.

But Butler had other ideas as the five-time All-Star posted 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in Game 3 to cut the Lakers' series lead to 2-1 at Walt Disney World Resort on Sunday.

Butler became the first player with 40-plus points and 12-plus assists in an NBA Finals game since Jerry West in 1969, per Stats Perform.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 25 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and as many turnovers, while team-mate Anthony Davis (15 points) struggled following five turnovers and four fouls.

All eyes were on the top-seeded Lakers, with James and Davis looking to deliver a first championship to the storied franchise in 10 years.

But the Heat impressed from the outset as Lakers star Davis struggled in the third showdown.

Miami raced out to a 22-9 lead and eventually ended the opening quarter 26-23 ahead, with Davis scoreless after four turnovers in eight minutes of play.

James tried to keep the Lakers in the contest but Butler stayed hot, his 19 points, six rebounds and six assists ensuring the Heat led 58-54 at half-time.

The Lakers rallied early in the fourth quarter – back-to-back three-pointers from Markieff Morris (19 points) and Rajon Rondo's layup helping to put the Los Angeles franchise ahead 91-89, having started the final period trailing 85-80.

But Butler and the Heat had all the answers as they avoided going down 3-0 – Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk finishing with 17 points apiece, while Duncan Robinson (13) and Jae Crowder (12) made solid contributions.

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