The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to the Moda Center on Thursday, blowing another double-digit lead in their 118-109 loss to the Portland Trailblazers. As is the case for young teams, the Lakers once again demonstrated some of the growing pains that come with a rebuilding franchise.
Luke Walton’s team once again became stagnant on offense in the fourth quarter, while also surrendering a large lead early in the third quarter. Those two instances have become trademarks of this Lakers team this season, as other teams have become aware of their inability to hold onto a lead.
The Lakers return to Staples Center on Friday, in the first of their two showdowns against basketball teams from Florida. Walton’s squad takes on the injury riddled Miami Heat on Friday, before facing off against the Orlando Magic on Sunday.
Now in 2017, the Lakers steadily approach the halfway point of the NBA season, currently sitting with a 13-26 record. The Lakers faced off against the Heat earlier this season, in a 115-107 loss at the American Airlines Arena.
The Heat boast a quick, athletic lineup on the floor, with Goran Dragic and Rodney McGruder starting at the guard position. Both players like getting to the rim, using their quickness and ability to drive in to create for their teammates. Dragic is averaging 19 points, 6.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 34.3 minutes per game.
The Heat have one of the smallest starting lineups in the NBA, as they continue to shuffle their rotation to deal with their injuries. Bench players Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington each add some scoring off the bench in their own ways.
Johnson remained with the Heat after receiving a huge deal in the offseason, flourishing in his newfound role as a top scorer. Look for him to get it started offensively for the bench unit once he enters the game.
For the Lakers, D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young continue to carry the scoring load for the starting lineup, as the team has lacked consistent scoring from the center and small forward position.
Although Young had a mediocre shooting performance on Thursday, he always remains a deadly shooter with a quick trigger. Walton has begun utilizing Young off of screens more so, instead of him attempting to create his own shot and stagnating the offense.
Walton recently stated he wants Russell to find an appropriate balance between scoring and passing. On Thursday, Russell took an aggressive approach and reached the free throw line 11 times. Look for more of the same on Friday, as he takes on the smaller Dragic.
The Heat will be without two of its best players on Friday night. Hassan Whiteside has been ruled out for Friday’s contest after feeling some discomfort upon being poked in the eye. Also, small forward Justice Winslow will be unavailable, as he suffered a torn labrum that required shoulder surgery. The sophomore is likely out for the season, which is a huge blow to Erik Spoelstra’s team.
Due to their injuries, Spoelstra elected to go with Willie Reed, Luke Babbitt and Josh Richardson in his frontcourt. Babbitt was the 16th overall selection in the 2010 draft, known for his ability to shoot the ball. In 17 minutes in his last game, he knocked down all three of his three-pointers, while chipping in four rebounds.
Richardson is more of an all-around player for the Heat, contributing in all areas of the stat sheet. This season, he is averaging 11.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 31.3 minutes per game. Reed has stepped in as Whiteside’s replacement, although his 6’10” frame is quite different from Whiteside’s 7-foot frame and ability to impact the paint.
Friday’s matchup will surely feature two of the small-ball lineups in the NBA, as both teams prefer to have quicker lineups on the floor. The contest at Staples Center should be a high scoring one, with both teams getting up and down the court.
Look for Julius Randle to exploit his probable matchup against Babbitt, as Randle’s strength and athleticism is far too much for Babbitt to handle. The Kentucky alumnus should facilitate the offense rather well, as his ball handing ability has grown as the season has progressed. Over his last three games, Randle is averaging 17.0 points, 10.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
After missing Thursday’s contest due to a bicep’s injury, Luol Deng will be back in the lineup against his former team. After seemingly getting over his early-season slump with some excellent play, Deng has fallen back to his earlier levels the last couple of games.
Center Timofey Mozgov should be able to control the glass rather well on Friday, while also easily standing as the tallest player on the floor. His ability to jump with verticality should cause trouble for the Heat in the paint.
Three Keys To Victory:
Don’t Be Afraid To Be Physical
Playing against a small Heat lineup, the game should gradually turn into an up-tempo style of game. However, the Lakers need to continue running their offensive sets and not settle for one-on-one situations. The Heat lack any protection near the rim, meaning the Lakers shouldn’t be afraid to drive to the basket. With many mismatches to exploit, the Lakers need to create for one another to build their confidence for the fourth quarter. In a presumed tight contest, the Lakers have a better offensive team.
Clamp Down On Defense
The Lakers need to stop getting complacent on defense. After holding a double-digit lead against the Trail Blazers, the starters came out and let their opponents easily catch up and erase the lead. The starting lineup needs to remain focused on defense throughout the contest, as that is what will lead them to a victory. The offense should get their shots up, but defense will earn their 14th win of the season.
Shoot Your Open Shots
The Lakers are ranked ninth in the NBA this season in total three-point field goals made (362), while the Heat are ranked 19th (321 three-point field goals made). Walton’s offense hasn’t been shy in hoisting up the three-point shot, especially when coming off of good movement on offense. If the Lakers can use off-ball screens and pick-and-roll situations to create opportunities (rather than one-on-one), they should create a nice lead. With no protection in the paint, the Lakers can steadily drive in and kick the ball out to their shooters.
Los Angeles Lakers (13-26) Vs. Miami Heat (11-26)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 6th, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Heat Starting Lineup:
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Rodney McGruder
SF: Josh Richardson
PF: Luke Babbitt
C: Willie Reed
Key Reserves: James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Udonis Haslem
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Tarik Black, Thomas Robinson