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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GOTW Preview: Indiana Pacers @ Brooklyn Nets

At 6:00 eastern time at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, two red-hot franchises will face off as they, like several either teams are doing everything in their power to move up the standings in the Eastern Conference.

The Match-up:

The Indiana Pacers (23-14), winners of four straight, are coming off of a 96-88 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats that saw forward David West record his first career triple-double. They benefited from superb point guard play that saw George Hill and back-up D.J. Augustin put up 19 and 18 points, respectively. They’ll be going to the homes of the Brooklyn Nets (21-15), who have won six in a row and seven of their last eight since firing coach Avery Johnson and replacing him with interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. Brooklyn had a nice showing on Friday night when they beat the Phoenix Suns 99-79. Joe Johnson chipped in 19 points in that game and MarShon Brooks added 17 points off the bench while filling in for Gerald Wallace, who came out of the game in the first quarter when P.J. Tucker contested a dunk attempt and Wallace landed hard on his right arm. Initial testing on the arm came up negative, but Wallace did suffer bruised ribs.

Injuries:

  • Gerald Wallace – Out. Wallace has been ruled out of this game with bruised ribs, sources near the team says.
  • Deron Williams – Questionable. Williams suffered a thigh contusion against the Suns on Friday. The star point guard is a gametime decision. ***Update: Williams will start, but may be limited in minutes***
  • Paul George – Probable. George is the leading scorer for the Pacers (16.9 PPG) and has shown great recent success against the Nets, scoring 19.5 PPG and shooting 66.7% from the field in the Pacers’ last four meetings against the Nets. Paul George missed Saturday’s game against the Bobcats with an undisclosed illness, but is expected to return with the team against the Nets. ***Update: George will play, according to the Indianapolis Star***

What to Expect:

Indiana has the top defense in the NBA, allowing only 98.6 points per 100 possessions, the best defensive rating in an 82-game season since the 2003-04 season. Their combination of long and quick players on the perimeter and Roy Hibbert causing havoc under the basket has slowed even the best of offenses in recent weeks. Both teams ranked among the slowest in the NBA by comes to pace, so don’t be expecting a “flying death machine” like Miami or the LA Clippers. The Nets have had an up-and-down year and are currently riding a hot streak. They have two guards in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson that have been putting up high-usage, albeit inefficient seasons. This game should be close right up to the end as they are pretty equally matched.

The X-Factor:

Joe Johnson is the X-Factor of this match-up. Much has been made of the struggles Joe Johnson has had in his first year with the Nets, most alarmingly is his worse-than-average PER of 14.5. For a player making $19.5 million this year, that’s just unacceptable. However, when Johnson has been productive, Brooklyn is a different team. The Nets are 16-5 when Johnson shoots at least 42% from the field and only 5-10 when he shoots worse than that.

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 expect the Pacers to stop the Nets run and pull this one out. Brooklyn depends too much upon Joe Johnson and Deron Williams (who may not even play). Indiana’s perimeter defense will shut them down. 89-79 Pacers.
  • Sam (twitter @sam_vecenie) – For me, it pretty much just depends if Paul George plays, as he missed their game last night against the Bobcats with the flu. George has been on fire recently and looks like he’s turned the corner as a go-to option for the Indiana offense. If he plays, the Pacers will pick up a close win around 93-90. If he doesn’t, this should be a win for the Nets, who have won seven of their last eight under PJ Carlesimo. Without George, I’ll go with a 95-86 win for the Nets.
  • Chris (twitter @chrisjandb) – Indiana is on fire lately with a smothering defense. Opponents are only shooting 42.3% against them the last 10 games. IND 92 BK 86.
  • Quentin (twitter @qhaynes22) – I expect David West to have a big game. Pacers 94, Nets 87.
  • Jameson (twitter @jamdraper) – Brooklyn wins 94-89. Paul George not playing/playing ill hurts the Pacers.

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.