With Kobe Bryant out, the Lakers’ match-up against the two-time defending world champion Miami Heat has lost some of its luster. However, look for this young Laker team to come out with lots of energy in order to defend their home floor against the Heat. The Heat enter Christmas Day with a 21-6 record, good for second in the East behind the Indiana Pacers. LeBron James remains far and away the league’s best player, and the rumors regarding the fall of Dwyane Wade are greatly exaggerated as he has looked excellent so far this season. Any time a team with the star power the Heat possesses comes to town, it is a highly intriguing game.
Somehow, LeBron James continues to improve. The four-time NBA MVP spent the last two off-seasons refining his post game, which helped spur the Heat to the last two titles. This off-season James spent countless hours in the gym working on his outside shot. He is shooting an unbelievable 60% from the field to go with 41% from three, and a slightly improved 77% from the line. He also leads the Heat in points, rebounds, and assists. Even with these shooting percentages, the Lakers (and all NBA teams, for that matter) have no choice but to give him space and dare him to shoot as he is unstoppable when he gets a head of steam going to the rim.
Chris Bosh remains the perfect fit to go with the one-two punch of James and Wade. His ability to space the floor against opposing big men is critical in opening up driving lanes for LeBron and Wade. His touches and points per game are down this year (only 14.7 points per game), but he still shoots it at 52.7% from the field. If the Heat want to three-peat, they do need Bosh to step up on the boards, as he is only averaging a hair over six rebounds per game. If the Lakers want any shot at winning tonight, Pau Gasol needs to play well and punish Bosh on the block.
Other than Kobe, Dwyane Wade has been the best two guard in the league since Michael Jordan’s retirement. Though Wade has always been injury prone and has lost some of his athleticism, he remains an elite player. Wade, like the other two members of the big three, shoots above 50% from the field (54.1%). He has the same knack for hitting tough shots at the rim and jumping the passing lanes on the defensive end that he always had. Wade has been held out of several back-to-back games this year to keep him fresh for the postseason, but he will play tonight as the NBA took the day off yesterday.
Mario Chalmers, for the third straight season, is the Heat starting point guard. Chalmers fills the role of spot-up shooter in the starting lineup, a role that many players on the Heat fill playing alongside Wade and James. Chalmers is a fearless player who does not shy away from open shots in crucial moments. Chalmers, like Wade, has quick hands and is dangerous in the passing lanes on the defensive side of the ball.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Limit Turnovers: The Heat play without a real center on their roster. How is a team able to do this and still win back-to-back championships? LeBron James’ presence is obviously a huge reason, but the other reason is how great the Heat’s defensive rotations are. When they are fully locked in, the Heat are far and away the quickest team in the league on the defensive side of the ball. They do a great job of blitzing pick-and-rolls and scrambling to close out on shooters. They also lead the league in steals at 9.7 per game, which is a scary thought for a Laker team that is playing with Jordan Farmar, who is back from injury, as their only true point guard.
Transition Defense: When opposing teams allow LeBron and Wade to get out on the break, they not only often times end up on posters (see Paul Millsap and Ben McLemore courtesy of LeBron in the past week), but they more often than not lose the game. The Heat shoot a league-high 51% from the field as a team. With the Heat shooting these high percentages, the Lakers can’t allow them to get additional easy buckets in transition.
20+ Assists: The Lakers have had a hard time creating the past two games in losses at Golden State and Phoenix. They were only able to generate 12 assists total as a team in Monday night’s loss in Phoenix. The Lakers do not have the talent to get into one-on-one battles with the Heat, and must move the ball to generate open looks for their shooters. Trying to run with the Heat or create in isolation situations in the half-court is a recipe for getting blown out.
Miami Heat (21-6) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (13-15)
2:00 PM PST, December 25, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Heat Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Shane Battier
C: Chris Bosh
Key Reserves: PG Norris Cole, F Michael Beasley, PF Chris Anderson
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Jordan Farmar
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Shawne Williams
C: Pau Gasol