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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LosAngeles Lakers Season Preview

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Offseason Moves-Traded for Dwight Howard, traded away Andrew Bynum in the Dwight Howard trade, kept Pau Gasol, got Steve Nash…uhh is anything else they did important?

Expectations-58 Wins, 1 of the top 2 seeds in the West, at least the Western Conference Finals
Worst Case Scenario-Dwight’s back injury is worse than they feared, Dwight is never at 100%/goes down again, 4th seed in the West due to Dwight being hurt.

Yeah…the Lakers are good. Like really good. Like really really really oh come on good. The offseason they had was just unfair enough in getting Steve Nash. But Dwight Howard? I still get mad sometimes that my favorite team made a team I really for the most part have never liked get so much better. So who are threats to the Lakers? Well the Clippers and Spurs obviously. Am I forgetting someone? Oh right the Thunder. They’re an under the radar team this year with a guy named Kevin Durant. You may have heard of him. Believe it or not but the Lakers entire season depends on the gigantic shoulders of Dwight Howard. This guy will make or break this team’s season. Dwight Howard is more important than Kobe, he’s more important than Pau Gasol, he’s more important than Steve Nash. Without Dwight this team doesn’t make the finals. Dwight Howard’s defensive ability alone makes the Lakers an automatic Top 10 defense and Mike Brown being a coach who prides himself on defense this team will be absolutely scary on defense. Ron Artest (no I’m not calling him that) may not be the ruthless defender he once was but he can still play defense. He doesn’t have the ability on the perimeter to stop Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook like he once did but that’s okay. Mike Brown, Arest, and Dwight, This trifecta of defense will cause havoc for other teams. Kobe Bryant is Kobe. Kobe’s ability to score, at times it seems like at will, makes him the #1 option on offense. Kobe may not be the player he once was but the name still strikes fear into younger or not as good defenders, he can still shoot, he can still create problems for a defense and he demands attention. This attention will be great for Pau Gasol. Pau is no slouch on defense but his main contributions to this team will be offense. Pau at times struggled last year but I don’t think that will happen this year. Dwight’s ability on defense will allow Pau to put some more energy towards offense which will let him play a little tougher and he can clean up any rebounds Dwight can’t get to. The final piece to the puzzle is Steve Nash. Nash is the glue that holds this team together. This guy likes to run and when he needs to run he has Dwight, who is arguably the fastest running big man in the league, to run with him. Nash is one of the best passers and best floor generals in the NBA, he can spot up and shoot, he has one of the best floaters ever, he has a great offensive game. His defense isn’t the best in the world but when you have Dwight behind you that isn’t so important (Jameer Nelson is proof of this). The Lakers bench is meh, nothing too spectacular on there so if teams are going to strike at them it will have to be during a period where the starting lineup has to take a breather. I have the Lakers in the NBA finals. It’s not going to be an easy road but I think Dwight is going to be MVP this year. I’m going to be angry watching the Magic lose 60 games while the Lakers win 58 but so be it. Lakers fans you get another great team just be sure to give Dwight his due.