Never has an organization experienced such a whirlwind of emotions over such a brief period of time. The wizardry of Pat Riley triumphed through the NBA trade deadline with the theft of Goran Dragic, assembling perhaps the most talented starting lineup in the league. All the buzz surrounding Miami was soon overshadowed by a brief episode of sheer horror as Chris Bosh suffered potentially lethal blood clots in his lungs. Fortunately, Bosh’s health is now stable, but it will cost him the remainder of an otherwise impressive individual season. Miami has rallied around the adversity, though, winning four of its last seven contests coming into Wednesday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
A true revelation and certainly a nominee for the NBA’s Most Improved Player, Hassan Whiteside avoided a one-game suspension after he essentially muscled Phoenix Suns center Alex Len to the ground. Fresh off an extended hiatus overseas and brief stint in the D-League, Whiteside has evolved into the biggest sensation since Linsanity. Clearly, sustainability was the problem for Lin, as he eventually came back down to earth. Whiteside however has withstood the test of time averaging 10.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game over 32 games and in a mindboggling 21.8 minutes. Assuming his numbers stay steady throughout the remainder of the season, Whiteside’s rebounding rate of 27.0 percent would rank second in NBA history behind Dennis Rodman, who holds the record of 29.73 percent. How no other franchise was aware of the 25-year-old’s untapped potential remains unexplained.
Erik Spoelstra has opted to start the Floridian native and 12-year veteran Udonis Haslem at power forward in wake of Bosh’s illness. Miami re-signed Haslem last offseason after he opted out of a guaranteed $4.6 million contract solely to create cap flexibility for Riley. It’s safe to say Haslem is on the outskirts of his lengthy career as he’s averaging career lows in points and rebounds per game with 3.7 and 3.6, respectively. The power forward is unlikely to play excess of 20 minutes Wednesday night, so expect Chris Anderson and newly signed free agent Michel Beasley to split the remaining minutes at the four.
An NBA journeyman and former Chicago Bulls beloved, Luol Deng starts on the wing. A reliable scorer, Deng’s craftiness on defense and ability to withstand the grueling nature of an NBA season forged his path to Miami. Replacing LeBron James is no easy feat, but Deng easily fits the mold Riley has carefully crafted during his years in the Association. Unselfishness, defense and a willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the team are all characteristics that are imbedded in Deng’s DNA. He has the versatility to play multiple positions, guard the opponent’s best player, while putting up about 15 points every single night. The small forward owns a player option for next season, which could open up a gateway for his pursuit after the Lakers expressed interest last summer.
The sole competitor for Kobe Bryant’s throne as the heir to Michael Jordan was Dwyane Wade. Wade was a budding superstar just in time for the destruction of the Lakers Empire. Shaquille O’Neal was shipped to Miami for a cast of role players, found immediate success, while Bryant’s Lakers took a tailspin. A “selfish” Kobe was the villain and Wade was the poster boy. Bryant’s callous demeanor and internal struggles were paralleled by Wade’s first championship and an impeccable will to carry an otherwise talentless roster to the playoffs after Shaquille O’Neal’s departure. Bryant struggled to elevate his teammates, while Wade excelled at it. But, Bryant soon realized to reach championship-level aspirations he must lead by example and instill trust in his teammates. Bryant would lead the Lakers to two titles, while Wade’s once convincing career was torn apart by knee injuries and his role diminished by the arrival of James. Thus, ending the half-decade debate of who is the second best shooting guard in NBA history.
Goran Dragic’s last second request to be traded shocked the NBA universe because the casual fan rarely sees the Suns play. The body language was horrible since Isaiah Thomas’ free agency acquisition and Dragic was utilized improperly as a spot up shooter and secondary ball handler. Dragic is best suited attacking the basket, plain and simple. When Eric Bledsoe was out last season, Dragic dominated by running the team himself, which he ultimately wanted to do. In fact, Dragic’s 67.5 field goal percentage (210-of-311) at the rim beats out the elite competitors of LeBron James (66.4 percent) and Blake Griffin (61.8 percent). So it’s safe to say Miami acquired a unique point guard who, contrary to popular opinion, is well worth a maximum extension.
Keys To Victory:
Crash the Boards: Despite Whiteside’s incredible ability to rebound the basketball, Miami is a poor rebounding team overall. The Heat are dead last in rebounds per game with a mere 38.5, while the Lakers rank 12th with 43.9. If Los Angeles can out-rebound Miami, it should be in good shape to steal this game.
Get Easy Buckets: Miami may struggle rebounding the ball, but its defense can be suffocating at times. The Heat allow a hair under 97 points per game, which has helped keep them afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Guard play is essential for a Lakers victory as Miami’s defensive juggernauts primarily operate in the paint.
Bench Play: During the Lakers’ three game winning streak last week, the bench played outstanding basketball, Jeremy Lin in particular. Scoring, intensity, rebounding the bench crew did it all. Therefore, the Lakers must attack the Heat at their weakest, which is after substitutions.
Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat (26-33)
5:00 PM PST, March 4, 2015
American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Heat Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Dwayne Wade
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key Reserves: PG: Mario Chalmers SF: Michael Beasley PF: Chris Andersen
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Robert Sacre