The Los Angeles Lakers have won three straight games since returning from All-Star Weekend, but now the competition level is about to pick up big time and it starts in Miami against one of the league’s best defensive teams.
This game will be a complete clash of styles as the Heat like to slow things down, lock teams up and grind it out. They play at the third slowest pace in the league, rank fourth in points allowed, and seventh in defensive rating.
Things for Miami begin with their All-Star point guard Goran Dragic, who has long been one of the NBA’s most underrated players. He can hurt teams from deep and is also one of the best finishers at the rim among guards.
In all likelihood, the initial job of containing him will fall on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. If Dragic isn’t finishing himself he is dumping it down to their big man Hassan Whiteside who patrols the paint.
He would rank in the top-10 in both rebounds and blocks if he hadn’t missed too many games earlier this season, but he is the heart of their defense.
The Lakers had some tough luck yesterday, losing Josh Hart to a fractured hand just hours after agreeing to a buyout with veteran Corey Brewer. As such, the Lakers’ rotation could very well be shortened as they are now very thin on the wing.
Lonzo Ball will be re-inserted into the starting lineup and he has been very effective since returning from injury. His minutes restriction will go up once again and the Lakers will need him to continue to produce at a high level on both ends of the floor.
Just as important will be the continued excellent play of both Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle. Ingram will have to make an adjustment as he will return to his normal position after operating as the point guard for the past few weeks. He must not lose his aggression now that Lonzo is back with the starters.
Likewise, Randle will have to continue his domination inside. Justise Winslow is too small and Kelly Olynyk isn’t strong enough, but Whiteside is always lurking on the weakside for blocks. Randle will need to recognize this and know when to look to score and when to find his teammates.
Of course the Heat also recently brought back Dwyane Wade at the trade deadline and he is coming off his best game since returning, dropping 27 points in the Heat’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
As is often the case, this game could come down to the role players. Wade, Olynyk, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson are all capable of exploding so the Lakers defense must not fall asleep.
Likewise, L.A. will be looking for KCP, Brook Lopez, Isaiah Thomas, and Kyle Kuzma to get back on track.
Three Keys to Lakers Victory
Control Pace: Miami likes to slow things down while the Lakers love to get out and run. If this becomes a halfcourt contest, the Lakers will be in for a long night against Miami’s stout defense. L.A. must get stops, create turnovers, and get out in transition.
Win the Three-Point Battle: The Lakers have made at least 13 3-pointers in each of their last three games. The overall shooting has improved and with Ball’s return to the starting lineup, the ball movement has too.
That won’t matter if they can’t hit open shots and against Miami, knocking down the good looks is a must, because there might not be too many.
Who Steps Up?: Losing Hart and Brewer means one of two things. Either the rotation shortens, or players get an increased opportunity. Someone will have to take advantage, whether it is a normal rotation player like Thomas, Kuzma, or Ball, or someone like Thomas Bryant or Gary Payton II getting an early look, someone will need to step up.
Los Angeles Lakers (26-34) Vs. Miami Heat (32-29):
4:30 P.M. PST, March 1, 2018
American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Isaiah Thomas, Ivica Zubac
Projected Heat Starting Lineup:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Tyler Johnson
SF: Josh Richardson
PF: Justise Winslow
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key Reserves: Dwyane Wade, Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson
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