Coming off a tough loss to the New York Knicks in what could’ve been Kobe Bryant’s last time playing in Madison Square Garden, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to get back on the win column as they continue their five-game road trip against the Miami Heat.
Besides getting their first win of the season Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers are 1-5 for the second consecutive season and are looking to turn the tide around while it’s still early in the 2015-16 season.
And although there were a lot of cheers and smiles following the loss in New York due to Bryant’s potential farewell to ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena,’ the team hasn’t had much to smile about six games into the season. The Lakers have been horrendous on defense giving up 110.7 points per game (28th in the NBA) and have struggled to close games late in the fourth quarter. Lakers head coach Byron Scott has altered rotations on this road trip to balance out the veterans with the young core and is now expecting wins to come out of it. They will be up against a resurged Heat team that is looking to make their presence felt in the Eastern Conference.
Miami’s frontcourt is led by 10-time All-Star Chris Bosh who is back this season after a blood clot in one of his lungs forced him to miss the last 30 games of the 2014-15 season. His ability to play inside and out makes it tough on bigs who don’t like guarding outside of fifteen feet. The two-time champion can create his own shot on the low-block and can also spread the floor out and knock down shots from three. With Bosh back this season, he may be enough to give the Heat a shot to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
Alongside Bosh, he’s paired up with Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside. Deng’s contribution as a 3-and-D type of player gives Miami a boost on both ends of the floor. Seven games into the season, the 11-year veteran is averaging 9.4 points and four rebounds — sharing minutes with Miami’s 2015 first round pick (No. 10 overall) Justise Winslow. Deng’s vocal leadership continues to pan out well on-and-off the court for Winslow, who has played well to begin his rookie campaign.
As for Whiteside, he’s given the Heat stellar play at the center position after being in the NBA’s Developmental League just last December. Although it’s still early in the season, the seven-footer is currently averaging a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and is easily one of the league’s most improved players. If Whiteside’s play on both ends of the floor can stay consistent along with Bosh’s, Miami’s frontcourt can be one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
Since being drafted by the team back in 2003, Dwayne Wade has led the Heat’s backcourt and is looking to get the team contending for NBA titles again. Although Wade has battled with injuries over the last few years, he’s still widely viewed as a top-five shooting guard and has the ability that few do as a primary creator for himself and those around him. Besides being knocked for his durability coming into this season at 34 years old, the 12-year veteran is averaging nearly 19 points and over four assists per game on 40 percent shooting from three. His health is always being watched over due to his unorthodox style of playing, but for Miami to go any where this season, he’s going to have to stay on the floor and keep his productivity level high.
One of the sleeper trades made last season prior to the trade deadline ending was the trade that sent point guard Goran Dragic packing from Phoenix to South Beach. Although they fell just short of making the playoffs due to Bosh being out last season, Dragic saw enough to re-sign with the team on a five-year, $86 million deal. Now that he’s found his home for at least the next five seasons, the 29-year-old Slovenian is now the team’s primary ball-handler and facilitator in what Heat President Pat Riley calls a “complete” roster. With the team being the deepest since LeBron James parted ways two seasons ago, Miami is looking to build something great in South Beach once again.
Keys to Victory:
Battle on the Boards: Winning the rebounding battle always puts the team in a better situation to win games. Six games into the season, the Lakers have struggled to rebound the ball as they rank 24th in the NBA with a -6.2 difference in that department. Even in their lone win against Brooklyn on Friday, the team was still out-rebounded (46 to 40) as they’ve been have in every game except in the season-opening loss against Minnesota. Especially on a team like the Laker that don’t play excruciating great defense to begin with, the last thing they want to do is give a team like Miami numerous second chance opportunities on the offensive end.
Spread the Wealth: The one thing the Lakers need to do better is get more assists on their field goals. They are currently 27th in the league averaging only 17.8 assists (as a team) per game while opposing teams are averaging over 25 assists on them. On a team with Kobe Bryant, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson and of course, D’Angelo Russell — who’s vision is one of the main reasons why Los Angeles drafted him No. 2 overall — the Lakers should be getting easier shot attempts per basket. However, if you take them, you got to make them. Hopefully the team can capitalize on open threes and transition points to get the offense going against Miami.
Close the Fourth Quarter: The game against the New York Knicks on Sunday was just the latest game where the Lakers have had a chance to win but fell short in the closing minutes when it mattered most. With a 1-5 record coming into Tuesday night’s matchup, the team could easily be 3-3 if they closed better in the games against Minnesota and Denver. However, with a (fairly) young rebuilding core, this is one of the growing pains that the Lakers are going to continue to endure on a team that lacks experience. It’ll be interesting to see if Byron Scott stays persistent on keeping D’Angelo Russell on the bench in the fourth quarter while Lou Williams gets the nod in the closing minutes. On a team that’s rebuilding and struggling, one would only hope Russell gets out there (alongside Randle and Clarkson) to get the experience needed to grow in his rookie campaign.
Los Angeles Lakers (1-5) at Miami Heat (4-3)
4:30 PST, November 10, 2015
American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Metta World Peace
PF: Julius Randle
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: SG: Lou Williams SF: Nick Young PF: Larry Nance Jr. C: Tarik Black
Heat Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Dwayne Wade
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Chris Bosh
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key Reserves: PG: Mario Chalmers SG: Gerald Green SF: Justise Winslow C: Chris Andersen