Lakers vs. Heat Pre-Game Report: Lakers Take on the Defending Champs

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat

Today the Lakers will conclude their Grammy road trip with a marquee game in Miami. So far the Lakers are a respectable 4-2 during this extended road journey. They started with a poor loss in Phoenix, but made up for that with a strong win in Brooklyn. The blowout in Boston wasn’t entirely unexpected, although it was painful to watch.

On Friday the Lakers barely squeaked by the lowly Bobcats in ugly fashion and today they will face their toughest opponent yet. The Miami Heat sit atop the Eastern Conference standings and are coming off of a huge win over the Clippers. Furthermore, the Heat are 21-3 at home and they would be more than happy to increase that record to 22-3 at the expense of the Lakers.

The Lakers aren’t exactly playing their best basketball heading into tonight’s game. The “win” against the Bobcats was laughable, but you have to give them credit for coming back from 20 down to earn the W. Pau Gasol’s absence has hurt the team more than anticipated and Dwight Howard is far from 100 percent. Kobe is carrying the team, but is visibly irritated. The way things are shaping up, a win today would be beyond expectations for these Lakers.

Frontcourt: LeBron James is well on his way to a fourth league MVP. It’s hard to believe, but this guy keeps on improving and hasn’t reached his peak. With video game averages of 26.9 points on 56 percent shooting, 6.9 assists, 8.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks a game, it’s no exaggeration to say that LeBron is doing it all. When the Heat beat the Lakers at Staples Center last month, LeBron recorded 39 points on 68 percent shooting along with eight assists. MWP is the Lakers best chance of limiting him, but to be honest the forecast doesn’t look rosy. Starting center Chris Bosh has missed the past two games due to the flu. Bosh is a superb third option for the Heat, but he’ll also be the easiest of the big three to minimize. At the four, Haslem has a reliable mid-range jumper and also cleans up the glass.

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Backcourt: Kobe nose-breaker, also known as Dwyane Wade, is the starting shooting guard for the Heat. Wade is deadly in the paint and can score in a variety of ways once he penetrates. He’s good for twenty points a night and is also a pesky defender who will match up well with Kobe. His backcourt mate Mario Chalmers is a superb defender and also a three-point specialist. He averages 1.4 threes a game on 40.1 percent shooting. First off the bench is Ray Allen, the estranged Celtic. Allen has accepted and flourished in his role as the leader of the Heat’s bench unit. He was also recently out with the flu, so it remains to be seen if he will suit up today.

Key to Lakers’ Victory:

Punish the Heat’s Front Line: This could be a statement game for Dwight Howard. Note the usage of “could”, since Dwight really hasn’t inspired many with his performance this year. But as the old montage goes, it’s better late than never. The Heat have an undersized frontline, which is their biggest weakness. If David West can drop 30 on the Heat, then Dwight can do it too. Hopefully D12 is up for the challenge and the Lakers get him easy looks in the paint.

Defensive Energy: The achilles heel for the Lakers this year has been their defense, which is allowing 100.6 points per game. Part of the reason is because the Lakers lack a clear defensive philosophy, but that shouldn’t be an acceptable excuse. The onus is on the players to play with sustained energy on defense and the Lakers haven’t done that often this year. There’s no doubt that the Heat will go on a few offensive spurts, but the Lakers must stay determined on defense and not lose focus.

Los Angeles Lakers (24-27) at Miami Heat (33-14)
12:30 PM PST, February 10, 2013
American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Heat Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh

Key Reserves: SF: Shane Battier SG: Ray Allen PG: Norris Cole

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