Despite the extremely rough start to this year’s Grammy Road Trip in Phoenix, the Lakers have turned things around with two wins followed by a heartbreaking loss to the Bulls. Now the Lakers look to climb above .500 on this road trip against a seemingly vulnerable Miami Heat team.
These teams squared off on Christmas Day with the Heat prevailing 101-95 in Los Angeles. But the undermanned Lakers gave the defending champs everything they could handle, and nearly stole the victory in the final minutes.
The Heat have struggled recently, going 3-4 in their last seven games, and struggling in wins against the Charlotte Bobcats and Boston Celtics. The team has struggled to maintain their high level of play with superstar guard Dwyane Wade on the sidelines. Wade has missed the past three games for the Heat as the team looks to keep him healthy for the playoffs.
This entire team is built around the unmatched skills of LeBron James. The reigning MVP is once again turning in another amazing season and it’s getting to the point where some are beginning to take his game for granted. James is averaging 26 points to go along with nearly seven rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 58 percent from the field.
James is also one of the league’s toughest defenders, and has basically assumed the power forward role for this team next to the criminally underrated Chris Bosh. Bosh averages 16 points and continues to play at a high level, even if he is overshadowed by his teammates. Shane Battier rounds out the frontcourt and continues to provide solid shooting and help defense, even as he gets older.
Wesley Johnson will undoubtedly draw the impossible task of trying to corral James at the outset of the game. Johnson has struggled offensively leading to a minutes decrease, but his defense will be necessary this game so expect to see him a little more. Rookie Ryan Kelly has been playing great and will need to continue his excellent shooting and solid rebounding against a Heat team that can be had on the boards.
One of the keys to this game, however, will be the play of Pau Gasol. Gasol has finally stepped his game up, averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks in the month of January. He must outplay Bosh on both ends in order for the Lakers to have a chance.
Whether or not Dwyane Wade plays will obviously have a huge effect on this game. He is one of the 10 best players in the league and his absence makes things much tougher on the Heat. If he doesn’t play, veteran Ray Allen will step into the starting lineup. Allen is still more than capable of lighting up a scoreboard with his shooting.
At point guard is Mario Chalmers, who is both a solid defender and a streaky three-point shooter. He is the weak link of the starting lineup, but in tandem with Norris Cole, whose athleticism can overwhelm most point guards, they create a tough duo.
Jodie Meeks continues to give the Lakers very solid play at the shooting guard position. He has no fear on the court and hounds players with his effort on the defensive end. He doubles as the team’s backup point guard when Kendall Marshall steps out of the game.
Speaking of Marshall, the former Tar Heel has to get his offense going again. He has shot 40 percent or worse in four the last five games and while his assist numbers are still outstanding, his offense will be needed in this game. Of course with Nick Young, there is never a lack of offense and his scoring off the bench will never be more necessary than against a top defensive opponent like the Heat.
Keys To A Lakers Victory
Dominate The Backboards: Ever since this Heat team was put together, they have always had one glaring weakness – rebounding. The Heat rank dead last in the NBA in rebounding and that lends itself well to the Lakers in multiple ways.
If they can continue their recent defensive play in the half court, they should be able to limit the Heat to only one shot per possession, which is something they have struggled to do against many teams. This will also allow the Lakers to gain multiple opportunities for themselves on the offensive end. With Gasol playing so well, and Jordan Hill on the floor, the Lakers must take advantage of the edge they will have upfront.
Keep Turnovers Down: Rebounding will mean very little however, if the Lakers can’t take care of the basketball. The Lakers’ turnover woes have been well documented, and the Heat force more of them than any team in basketball.
James, Wade, Chalmers, Battier, and Cole all excel at reading the passing lanes and once the Heat get out on the break, they are impossible to stop. These fast break dunks are what gets the crowd into the game and pumps the Heat up. The Lakers would be wise to take care of the ball as much as possible or the game could get out of hand.
Hot Three-Point Shooting: One of the reasons the Lakers were able to keep the first game competitive was because of their three-point shooting, making 14 in total. To pull off the upset on the road, the Lakers will have to match, if not exceed their Christmas Day performance.
The Heat don’t lack shooters with Allen, Chalmers, and Rashard Lewis all deadly from deep. But the Lakers crew of Meeks, Young, Johnson, Kelly, and Marshall have to be on-point from deep. The three-point ball is the equalizer in basketball and the Lakers must win that war.
Los Angeles Lakers (16-26) at Miami Heat (30-12)
5:00 PM PST, January 23, 2014
American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Heat Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade/Ray Allen
SF: Shane Battier
PF: LeBron James
C: Chris Bosh
Key Reserves: PG: Norris Cole PF: Chris Andersen SF: Michael Beasley F: Rashard Lewis
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Pau Gasol