Injuries have become an unfortunate theme to the 2017-18 campaign for the Los Angeles Lakers, especially during meaningful points in the season. It played a role in a nine-game losing streak put a damper on what could have been a playoff push.
At present time, the Lakers remain without Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram, and are hopeful to see Kyle Kuzma return Friday night from a sprained ankle. He missed Wednesday’s matchup and is considered questionable against the Miami Heat.
Head coach Luke Walton has seen the likes of Kuzma and Hart replaced by Travis Wear, Derrick Williams, and Alex Caruso. Though, Caruso is out of days on his two-way contract and has returned to South Bay.
To help offset that, the Lakers called up Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II from South Bay. Even shorthanded, L.A. continues to put in an incredible amount of effort with every game, a tremendous sign of maturity during a season full of growth for a young team.
The Heat come to Staples Center with a 36-33 record, good for eighth in the Eastern Conference. Head coach Erik Spoelstra’s team won six consecutive games but have since suffered back-to-back losses. Nonetheless, they have the luxury of a five-game lead over the teams outside of playoff contention.
Miami has quite the impactful starting lineup, with a team atmosphere that thrives when they play as a unit. All-Star Goran Dragic orchestrates the offense, remaining a constant threat to attack the rim in pick-and-roll scenarios.
The crafty lefty is also not afraid of knocking down the outside shot, making him a focal point the Lakers consistently have to address. It seems as though the Heat have also become affected by injuries, with a depleted roster entering Friday.
Hassan Whiteside will not be suiting up for the Heat, and likely to start in his place will be Bam Adebayo, a 6’10” burst of energy that accepts all challenges at the rim.
The Heat fan base received an unexpected gift at the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, when they saw Miami acquire Dwyane Wade, returning the former franchise legend back to what is known as ‘Wade County.’ Alas, Wade also won’t play, meaning the Heat lose one of their prolific scorers off the bench.
Tyler Johnson and Luke Babbitt tend to space the floor for Dragic and his drives to the rim, while physical enforcer James Johnson constantly crashes the rim on each shot attempt and pick he sets.
Miami can be quite the physical team and are no strangers to playing at a faster pace. However, the Lakers always encourage the uptempo style of play and use their defense to create opportunities in transition.
Three Keys To The Game
Use Homecourt To Get Things Going: The Lakers nine-game home losing streak was a wakeup call to the importance of homecourt, with the Lakers turning things around in 2018 with a 12-3 home record.
Both the Lakers and Heat average 26.4 points during the first quarter this season, meaning a strong start can lead to a comfortable lead.
Score From Inside Out: Lopez has hit the 20-point mark in four of the last five games, with his impressive footwork and plethora of moves in the paint. At the same time, he can promptly space the floor for when Juilus Randle has a mismatch in the post.
The Lakers have been excellent when operating from in the inside out, meaning creating opportunities in the paint tends to lead to open 3-point attempts as the game progresses.
Chemistry On Defense: The Lakers have had flashes of inconsistent play on defense, requiring a more communication on their intentions. These defensive breakdowns lead to many easy shot attempts for their opposing team.
If the Lakers can crack down on their defensive mishaps, they truly shine on defense and use it to facilitate the offense.
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Isaiah Thomas
SF: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Ivica Zubac, Alex Caruso, Travis Wear
Projected Heat Starting Lineup:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Tyler Johnson
SF: Luke Babbitt
PF: James Johnson
C: Bam Adebayo
Key Reserves: Justice Winslow, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk