Dec. 18, 2011; Miami, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (right) and Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (left) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Miami Heat: Does the Team Have Enough to Stop the Los Angeles Lakers Frontcourt?

Just because we’re ten months away from the 2013 NBA Finals doesn’t mean that we can’t already make prediction pieces.

We did it last year and it turns out we were right in our overzealous predictions of the Miami Heat taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder. We may be on the right track again with the majority’s prediction of the Heat coming out of the East once again to take on the new-look Los Angeles Lakers. While nobody is counting out the Thunder or San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers have put themselves at a distinct advantage with the offseason moves they have made.

The Lakers offseason of 2012 could be equal to the Heat’s offseason success in 2010. While the Lakers may not have received the league’s best player, they still picked up the league’s top center in Dwight Howard through a four-team deal and also garnered arguably the league’s best pure point guard in Steve Nash. All the Lakers gave up in return for those two was Andrew Bynum, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga, a 2017 first-round  pick, a 2013 first-round pick, a 2013 second-round pick, a 2014 second-round pick  and a 2015 first-round pick.

If there’s anything the Lakers lost out of this deal, it’s youth. The Lakers plan to win now with a 38-year old Steve Nash, a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant, a 32-year-old Pau Gasol and a 32-year-old Metta World Peace as four components of their starting lineup. Even their sixth man in Antawn Jamison continues this trend of stars past their prime, as he recently turned 36. Only Dwight Howard at 26 could be looked at as a formidable piece of the Lakers’ future.

So if there’s anything positive for other teams to look at when going against the Lakers, it’s that they won’t be around for long. In fact, the Thunder’s three stars are all 23-years-old or younger and will be the Miami Heat’s biggest foe coming out West. The Lakers will only cause a slight delay in the inevitable Heat-Thunder Final matchups, as age may be the only ideal that’s going to keep L.A. from becoming a surefire dynasty.

For now, however, we have to come to the realization that the Lakers are probably going to be a really good team next year. Because not only were they able to bring in Nash and Howard, but they were able to keep Pau Gasol as well. Gasol’s name was constantly being brought up in trade rumors–he was even a part of the rejected Chris Paul deal–yet he finds himself in the Laker gold that he’s already won two titles in.

The Magic, who came out of the deal looking the worst, was not looking for a star, thus the reason why Bynum is the only significant player from the Lakers who is now playing on a different team. It’s the ideal approach for the Lakers, as they traded away a center who has showcased a great deal of immaturity in the time he had spent with the team. Although Dwight isn’t much better, as long as he’s winning and satisfied, he can still conduct himself in a manner where he’s not attracting negative attention.

Either way, the Lakers are a better team because of it. While some will state how Howard isn’t too significant of an upgrade from Bynum, who is the second best center in the league, we need to recognize that Dwight will be playing alongside Steve Nash and that means pick-and-rolls for days. Nash finished last year as the league’s leading pick-and-roll facilitator, while Howard finished at the top among players who scored on the pick-and-roll.

So, yeah, there will be a lot of pick-and-rolls in the Lakers’ princeton offense, and that could mean bad news for a team like the Heat that plays overly aggressive on defense. Miami is constantly attempting to force turnovers, whether it’s in the passing lane or at the perimeter, and that may not always work against a passer as skilled as Nash, who has consistently been one of the league’s top passing point guards over the past decade.

However, the Heat may not have a choice but to force turnovers; because they don’t have an individual answer for Dwight. While the team has shown success in the past defending him with just Joel Anthony or Chris Bosh, they’ve also proven to be unable to stop him when he’s playing aggressive and receiving touches. And that was with a Magic team that only ran isolation plays for Howard in the low-post; we can only guess as to how the Lakers will utilize Dwight in their new offense.

There will be a lot of movement to the Lakers offense and it may not be the best solution when going against a Heat team that also stays active on the defensive end. Miami has a number of players who are excellent at reading passing lanes and capable of disrupting the rhythm to any type of offense. In order to do so, however, they have to go for the head, who would be Steve Nash facilitating the majority of the plays.

The Lakers will probably employ the same tactic they used with Gasol and Bynum by posting Howard alongside Gasol, while also creating plays for Gasol to get his mid-range shot. The Heat will have no choice but to utilize LeBron James and his defense against Pau, if they don’t plan on signing a center who can take a few hits at Howard. Otherwise, they’ll need James and Bosh to guard the four and five, which creates mismatches on both sides.

The Heat will be hoping that leaving James and Bosh at the four and five will cause the Lakers to change up their lineup, since it will require Dwight to stray out to the perimeter in order to defend Chris. Miami will need to do all it can on the offensive end to drag Dwight and Pau out of the post in order to free up some drives. If the Heat can’t, the lane is basically shut down due to the length of Gasol and the sheer presence of Howard.

Even by himself, Dwight was a considerable defensive threat in Orlando. While Gasol may not be a defensive elite, he still has the length and size to cause trouble for slashers. Having Gasol on the other side of Howard means that the Lakers have stoppers on both sides of the rim, which is why it will be a necessity for the Heat to drag those two out of the post and out of their comfort zones.

There’s no doubt that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will get their shots off, but they’ll need to force the issue inside and attempt to get the Lakers’ frontcourt members in foul trouble, much like they did with Tyson Chandler and Roy Hibbert in the first two rounds of last year’s postseason.

The biggest problem for the Heat when it comes to facing the Lakers will be on the defensive end, however. They don’t have any individual who can stop Dwight nor do they have a plethora of centers who can just bang down low with Howard. They can’t double-team because of the threat of four other players in the starting lineup who can score at will, which means they have no choice but to stop the Lakers before they get into their play.

Attacking Steve Nash will be the key. Miami must find ways to weaken him on both sides of the ball, so that the touches for Dwight are limited and the effectiveness of the pick-and-roll isn’t as prolific as it can be.

This could be the 2013 NBA Finals, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise to know the Heat are preparing for the Lakers upon the beginning of training camp.

 

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Tags: Dwight Howard Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Miami Heat NBA Steve Nash

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