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Lakers close out Heat with Game 6 rout for record-tying 17th NBA championship

Jeff Zillgitt
USA TODAY

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — LeBron James left Cleveland for Los Angeles, the Midwest for the West Coast, the Cavaliers for the Lakers. 

Enamored with NBA history, he not only wanted to play for one of the league’s iconic franchises, he wanted to win a title with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"This is a historic franchise and to be a part of this is something that I'll be able to talk about and my grandkids and kids will be able to talk about — their pawpaw played for the Los Angeles Lakers," James said. "It's like playing for the Yankees and winning or playing for the Cowboys and winning a Super Bowl, or the Patriots. It's like playing for the Red Sox. So to be able to win with a historical franchise is something that, no matter if your mind wavers away, you can always remember what you're doing it for."

The Lakers are back atop the NBA after a decade-long absence, and James is now part of that prolific Lakers history.

Los Angeles defeated Miami 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday — an anti-climactic end to the Finals but an improbable conclusion to the 2019-20 season that began with training camps more than a year ago and ended in a bubble because of COVID-19 on the Disney World campus in central Florida.

"It doesn't matter where it is if you win a championship. A bubble, Miami, Golden State — it doesn't matter," James said. "When you get to this point, it's one of the greatest feelings in the world for a basketball player to be able to win at the highest level."

The Lakers were prepared mentally and physically for the unusual bubble circumstances. It is the Lakers' first title since 2010 and 17th overall, tying them with the Boston Celtics for most in NBA history.

"I've always believed in our mental toughness, and our experience," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "You know, not just LeBron, I believe Anthony Davis was destined to be a champion, and the pairing of the two of them together, you know, took us here."

During the decade without a title, the Lakers struggled on the court with 17- and 21-win seasons, a revolving door of coaches and six consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance before this year. Off the court, longtime owner Jerry Buss died in 2013, and in January, Lakers icon Kobe Bryant died along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

"When I took the job, I remember he (Bryant) said, 'Hey, I know what you did for me for 20 years. I'll give you two, three years, you'll fix this. You'll get the Lakers back on top,' " Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka said. "I guess you were right, man. You give me the energy to do it."

James and Danny Green join John Salley and Robert Horry as the only players to win titles with three teams, Rajon Rondo picked up his second title, and 16 years after going No. 1 in the draft, Dwight Howard won his first championship.

James had 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, and Davis had 19 points and 15 rebounds. It is James’ fourth championship and Davis’ first — and their first in their first season together.

Rondo was stellar with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 17 points along with his top-notch defense.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss watched from a plexiglass-enclosed box. Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka and senior advisor Kurt Rambis sat across from the Lakers’ bench.

They didn’t have to stress this one. It was over early. Los Angeles led 23-19 with 1:38 left in the first quarter. By halftime, it was 64-36.

The Heat finally ran out of gas against a team that had more talent. But it was an impressive effort to reach the Finals and force the Lakers to six games. The fifth-seeded Heat beat No. 4 Indiana in the first round, No. 1 Milwaukee in the conference semifinals and No. 3 Boston in the East finals.

Had Goran Dragic (torn plantar fascia) and Bam Adebayo (strained neck) not sustained injuries in Game 1, Miami might have forced a Game 7. Dragic missed four games and returned for Game 6, but he was clearly not the player who had averaged 20-plus points in the first three rounds, and Adebayo wasn’t 100% either.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis celebrate as the finals seconds wind down on the Lakers' title.

"This locker room, regardless of whatever happens in the future, we're going to remember this year, this season, this experience and that locker room brotherhood for the rest of our lives," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You're in this business to be able to be around people like this. And I can go on and on.

"But the guys that competed and played in this series, we had several guys that were not even close to being a 100%. Probably shouldn't have been playing, but that's how this group was. They wanted to do it for each other. And I just, I'm really bummed that we couldn't find a way to get over the hump and finish the season with a win."

But that’s part of playoff basketball, and Jimmy Butler willed the hard-working Heat as far as they could go. He had triple-doubles in the Heat’s two victories, but was limited to 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting in Game 6.

"I didn't win, so none of the stats matter," Butler said. "We don't play for stats here. We don't play for anything else except for the win. I didn't do that. I didn't do my job. I'll be better, along with everybody else. I'll be better coming back. You sulk on this because of what could have been, but it didn't happen. We didn't win, and that's what you leave this at."

The Heat had a short bench against a deep bench for a lot of the series. And in Game 6, the combination of fatigue and stellar Lakers defense finally took its toll. Los Angeles held Miami to 43.6% shooting, including 35.7% on 3-pointers.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.