The Miami Heat (30-12) host the Los Angeles Lakers (16-26) on Thursday, taking on one of the NBA’s storied franchises on national television. Miami usually responds well to challenges under the brightest of lights but the injury-depleted Lakers will have to a lot to prove against the champs.
After a rough six-game road trip, the Heat returned home to face a gritty Boston Celtics Team on Tuesday. Despite building an 18-point lead in the first half, Miami’s recent defensive woes allowed Boston to take the lead in the fourth quarter. LeBron James (29 points) responded with clutch free-throws down the stretch and the Heat luckily squeaked out a 93-86 win.
Despite the win, the same problems continue to persist on the defensive end. Rotations have been poor, effort has been minimal and the Heat have lost a number of games to sub-.500 teams. The Lakers proved to be a resilient foe when the teams met in Christmas Day, when Miami won a close game, 101-95.
Los Angeles has been decimated by injuries to future hall-of-famers Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol has continued to put up decent numbers (16.4 points per game, and a team-leading 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game). Mercurial guard Nick Young (17 PPG) and rookie Ryan Kelly (5.8 PPG) have taken up some of the scoring burden off the bench. Young’s streaky shooting and Kelly’s recent willingness to heave up shots from downtown could be a factor against Miami.
The telecast of this game begins at 8 P.M. on TNT from the American Airlines Arena. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.
The Big Three Questions for the Game:
Has Wade’s Inactivity Become a Problem?
It depends on who you ask. LeBron James recently confirmed that Wade’s repeated absences (12 games so far) are a challenge. Miami is exhausted after three straight trips to the NBA Finals and the regular season is less of a priority than it has ever been. With the gap between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference (Indiana and Miami) and the rest of the field widening every day, there’s little to gain by over-exerting themselves at this point in the season. If Wade’s maintenance program ensures he produces at the high-level fans are accustomed to, the missed games and regular season losses will all be worth it.
Will the Lakers Challenge for a Playoff Spot?
Only if they somehow join the Eastern Conference. Well, actually, they may have a chance. They currently stand eight games out of the playoff race, currently held by the surprising Phoenix Suns. With Memphis, Denver, Minnesota and New Orleans standing in between, it does not look good for The Lake Show. But if Bryant is able to make a strong return and they keep their roster intact, there’s a possibility – albeit a slim one – that they’ll slide their way in. But the top teams in the West are too strong at this point and if the Lakers miraculously make the playoffs, an early exit is probably their ultimate fate.
Will Shane Battier and Ray Allen Get Back to Form?
I certainly hope so. Both combined for a perfect 8-of-8 from the field (including all 7 three-point attempts) in Monday’s loss in Atlanta. The following night they went 5-of-12 against Boston. Wade’s health issues have forced Allen into the starting lineup, the role played by Mike Miller last season. The extra minutes – even for someone as health-conscious as Allen – could be a factor as Ray’s shot has seemed flat at times. Battier himself has missed games this season. But the luxury of having both three-point specialists, as well as Rashard Lewis and Roger Mason, Jr., is that hopefully someone will be capable of hitting the big shot when it counts.