Kobe Bryant – Dwyane Wade
Ron Artest – LeBron James
Pau Gasol – Chris Bosh
Andrew Bynum – Erick Dampier
On Christmas Day last year, the Heat dominated the Lakers in Los Angeles to the tune of 96-80. LeBron James recorded a triple-double and Chris Bosh outplayed Lamar Odom the whole afternoon. The Heat rolled through LA causing concern for Laker fans by showing the defending champions the new “Big 3” in South Beach had what it takes to win it all. However, today things are very different.
At their lowest point of the season yet, Miami has lost five straight games, which has resulted in a stirring of questions from the media regarding chemistry problems amongst the players. The Heat can’t seem to close out games as they are 5-13 in games decided by 5 points or less. Miami also has not beaten either Boston or Chicago this season, two teams that are playing great basketball heading into the Eastern Conference playoffs. With nearly everyone poking fun at the Heat for crying after losing a few games and Bosh demanding more touches in the paint, Miami’s problems are piling up. While the Heat look to avenge themselves, the Lakers are fiercely looking for sweet revenge to extend their eight game winning streak.
Los Angeles has looked solid after the All-Star break. The questions of whether Ron Artest was playing with full amounts of effort, about Andrew Bynum’s ailing knee, and the inconsistency of the bench are now out of the window. With the eight game winning streak on their hands, the Lakers have beaten six out of those eight by double figures. Bynum has been the X-factor for LA, as he’s been averaging 12.1 rebounds since the All-Star break.
Keys to Lakers victory:
Pau Gasol vs Chris Bosh – Gasol has a bit of a size advantage. Pau can also use his magnificent post-up game against the fragile Bosh in the paint. As Bosh told the press recently he “wants the ball in the paint,” so chances are he will get his looks this game. Gasol needs to hold his ground and not let Bosh get on track offensively.
Push the tempo – When the Lakers played against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, the Spurs couldn’t get a shot down early. The Lakers need to take advantage of missed shots by the Heat and push the ball on the offensive side.
*Please note: @CoachDaveMiller of 710ESPN tweeted us: Brian, there is NO way you want to push the tempo! That plays right into the hands of the HEAT! It CAN’T get into a track meet
Andrew Bynum’s presence – When Bynum is in the paint he alters any shot going at him. Whether it’s a block or just standing near the hoop with his arms up, Miami will have a hard time getting by the big kid. Bynum is the key game changer.
Notes*** Artest loves competition, especially defending LeBron James. James and Wade will score, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be swarmed by the Lakers defense. If the Heat are held under 90 points the Lakers will most likely win the game. Also, if the game is close, the Heat have been poor at closing out games as of late.