GOTW Preview: Miami Heat @ Los Angeles Lakers

A day after Lebron games scored his 20,000th career point, TNT airs a game that many people circled on their calender when the schedules were released last summer. Ever since the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard, this was the dream final that everyone envisioned. The two teams in this match-up, the Heat and the Lakers have between 5 and 8 stars between them (depending on how you view Pau, Nash, and Ray Allen). And be honest. When it comes to NBA 2k13, these are the two teams that you hate facing. When you join an online match-up and you end up facing the Lakers or the Heat, you either quit out of the game, or at least contemplate it. Talent-wise, it doesn’t get better. One of these squads has the top scorer of the last decade, the top defender of the last decade, the top passer of the last decade, the top perimeter defender of the last decade, and the most-skilled post big-man of the last decade. The other team has perhaps the greatest athlete ever to play in the NBA, a shooting guard that has been toe-to-toe with Kobe and before this season had actually been statistically better, the best shooter of all-time and a top-3 power forward in the NBA today. This match-up may have more stars than have ever been on a court in an NBA game in the entire history of the league.

It has not been as easy for either of these teams this season as one would have expected before the season, especially the Lakers. The Los Angeles Lakers (17-21) have struggled immensely this season, with drama following their every move. First it was losing their first three games, then news that Nash had broken his leg, then the firing of the head coach. Phil Jackson was supposed to be the “savior”, to come back from retirement and reunite with Kobe and lead the team to their true potential. Mitch Kupchek and Jerry/Jim Buss shocked the NBA world when they chose Mike D’Antoni instead. They’ve had a very bumpy ride on the journey they call their season with Pau Gasol trade rumors clearly impacting his play, Kobe’s off-ball defense woes, and injuries sidelining Steve Nash and Steve Blake for extensive periods of time. Just earlier this month, the Lakers endured a freak game that injured their top three big men in minutes, including Jordan Hill for the whole season. They take a two-game win streak into tonight’s game against Miami, hoping to build on wins versus the Cavs and the Bucks.

The Miami Heat (25-12) lead the Eastern Conference, but that isn’t enough for the lofty expectations of their fans. Rebounding issues have highlighted the reason that they’ve stumbled of late. In their last eleven games, the Heat have only won three of them in regulation and have only out-rebounded their opponent in two of those last eleven games, a series of games that includes the Heat getting beaten down on the boards by Chicago (48-28), Indiana (55-36), and Utah (40-23). They’ll need to be sharp on the boards against a Lakers squad that presents two 7-footers.

Injuries:

  • Dwight Howard – Probable. Dwight is all but a sure thing to play after coming back from a shoulder injury on Sunday against the Cavaliers. In two games since he’s returned, Dwight has averaged 26.5 PPG, 15 RPG, 79% from the field and 2.5 BPG. Some say that he’s finally found his form for the first time since he’s moved across the country.
  • Pau Gasol – Probable. A concussion has taken away the last five games from Gasol, but ESPNLA is reporting that team doctors have cleared him this morning and he’ll be good to go tonight. However, there are conflicting reports as to whether Gasol will be comng
  • Shane Battier – Probable. Battier missed two games with a hamstring injury but returned against the Warriors last night, playing 10 minutes (well below his season average of 24.6 MPG). Since it’s the second game of a back-to-back, it isn’t out of the question for Battier to miss this one for precautionary measures.

What to Expect:

One of the places that the Lakers have struggled, and it’s been discussed heavily, is transition defense. That plays directly into the Heat strengths. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash need to commit themselves to get back on defense to prevent the team that does this and this from doing those things. I think it can also be expected for the stars to play well… or at least heave a lot of shots. They’re on ESPN, in the marquee match-up of the entire season. You can expect players like Kobe, Dwight, and Wade to try to assert themselves early and make a statement. Lastly, it’s important to look for who Kobe Bryant is guarding early in the game. In the past against the Heat, the Lakers have stuck Bryant on Wade, Metta on Lebron, and Bynum (now Howard) on Bosh. Lately, however, their defensive philosophy has changed a bit due to Kobe’s struggles with off-ball defense. He’s been guarding the main ball handler for the majority of games in the last week or so. If that trend should continue, it would put Kobe on Lebron James, something that he may not be able to handle. Honestly, I’d expect the trend to end and we’ll have a long night watching Dwyane Wade run around screens, stranding Kobe across the court.

The X-Factor:

On his 31st birthday, Dwyane Wade’s going to need a big day. When D-Wade scores at least 18 points this season, the Heat are 16-4, as compared to 9-8 when he doesn’t tally that many. Wade’s just got to be active in many facets of the game tonight. From time-to-time he seems a bit lackadaisical out there, with little energy. When he plays the way that he’s capable, Dwyane Wade is a top-5 player in the league today and a huge difference maker.

The Predictions:

Some of the other contributors for Hoop City Blog assisted me with this section and gave me their picks for the game.

  • Skyler (twitter @skylerjgilbert) – I think the Lakers are going to come out strong and and give themselves a fighting chance. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kobe came out looking to be a facilitator. In the end, I think the Hear are just too much for LA, however. Lebron James has at least 20 points in all but one game this year and is likely to win another most valuable player award. The Lakers will give up too many fast break points down the stretch. MIA 111, LAL 105.
  • Sam (twitter @sam_vecenie) – My prediction for tonight is a Lakers win. The Heat just got up for a somewhat big game against the Warriors last night and might be feeling the effects of a back-to-back tonight. This game will be defined by whether or not Dwight Howard is able to take over. If he is able to assert his will in the middle, the Lakers should win. If not, they will lose. I think he plays well tonight, the Lakers win, and chaos ensues as fans continue to believe the Lakers are back, but bloggers continue to laugh at their inherent flaws. 97-95 Lakers.
  • Quentin (twitter @qhaynes22) – MIA 104, LAL 96. LeBron has a huge game, Kobe had a solid game, but Howard keeps LAL in it with a 20-20 game before Wade and Bosh help MIA pull out the W.

Skyler Gilbert is a contributor for Hoop City Blog. He’d like to thank 82games.com, hoopdata.com, and basketball-reference.com for helping him compile the statistics used in the article. You can follow him at @skylerjgilbert. Also, it’s weird for him to be referring to himself in the 3rd person so he’s going to conclude this article.

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About Skyler Gilbert
Follow me on Twitter @skylerjgilbert

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