The Los Angeles Lakers 2012-13 season is finally about to begin after an amazing and successful off-season left Laker fans with extremely high expectations and anticipation. Training camp for the purple and gold kicked off today (Monday) with the annual event of media day. There is no question that the Lakers will be hyped this season by the media, which should not come as a surprise considering the Lakers’ new roster and who is highlighted in that roster specifically.
For the last week and a half, I wrote a series of articles briefly analyzing the top competitors for the Lakers in the Western Conference (OKC, the Spurs, the Nuggets) based on what we can expect given what the teams look like going into training camp. Now, I would like to begin a similar series regarding the Lakers top competition, but this time I want to discuss the Eastern Conference. To kick things off, I would like to begin with the defending champions, the Miami Heat.
The Miami Heat are coming off a high from winning the title last year after playing two years with the highest expectations. Unlike the Lakers, the Heat are essentially comprised of the same team as last year. Therefore, chemistry and teamwork that was on high gear last year, especially in the playoffs, will remain strong. The additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis shouldn’t disrupt this continuation of chemistry because of their willingness to strictly be role players and the fact that they’re veterans and can understand the situation at hand.
It shouldn’t be overlooked of what the presence of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis on the wing can do for the Miami Heat. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade love to drive to the basket, which draws attention from the defense, and kicked it out to the perimeter for an open-look shot. Now that Allen and Lewis are reportedly back to full health, their presence on the perimeter cannot be ignored by the Laker defense. In other words, the sixth-best offense from last season has two more weapons.
The Heat love to run a fast-paced, athletic-style offense. They frustrate and exhaust defenders by getting out on the break for easy dunks or high-percentage opportunities that deflate a defense. Miami also has the ability to defend at a high rate, as they were the fourth-best defense in the league last season. However, not only have the Lakers improved defensively in many positions during the summer, but the Princeton offense and the pick-and-roll game generated by Steve Nash will do wonders for the team’s offense, and hopefully confuse and tire out Miami’s defense as well.
The biggest weakness that the Heat have in a match-up against the Lakers is pretty much summed up by HoopsWorld’s Alex Kennedy:
For the second-consecutive summer, Miami pursued a perimeter player with the limited money they have to spend. Ray Allen is a great addition for the HEAT, but the team is still missing a starting-caliber center. While that didn’t stop them from winning the championship last season, the HEAT could run into trouble if they run into a dominant center in the postseason such as Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers. Chris Bosh will likely play some minutes at the five again this season, but that doesn’t solve the problem. The HEAT were the ninth-worst rebounding team in the league last season, averaging 41.61 boards per game, and it wasn’t uncommon to see big men have big games against Miami’s revolving door of centers.
If you thought there was hype and that the media possibly produced an NBA-generated rivalry last year between Oklahoma City and Miami, a bigger one can be created between South Beach and LA. If the Lakers live up to expectations early on in the season, don’t be surprised if a Lakers/Heat rivalry takes over the media. To be honest, as a Laker fan and a basketball fan, I would welcome it with open arms. Despite no evidence of an off-court rivalry – or even dislike between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James – their status has been debated by fans and the basketball community for years now.
The Lakers haven’t been this equally spread with talent in a long time. Kobe Bryant will be able to and should do less, as the Lakers have dangerous offense threats, especially in their starting lineup. However, Kobe’s ability of greatness remains, primarily in the post-season. The Heat did make additions this off-season to deepen their depth, primarily will an outside presence of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. With the distraction of capturing a ring finally subsided, LeBron is on top of his game. As a basketball fan, I cannot ignored that fact.
Therefore, a Lakers/Heat Finals featuring a Kobe/LeBron match would be highly anticipated and celebrated by the media and fans. Both Miami and Los Angeles got better during the off-season, with the Lakers having the best off-seasons in NBA history in my opinion. The two regular season match-ups are sure to be thrilling and full of entertainment. While the Heat are the team to beat because of their status of defending champions, the Lakers have aligned themselves to compete at that level and hopefully retake that status that Miami currently has for this time next year.