Big game tonight in the NBA as two star-studded, but very different teams take each other on for the first time this season. Los Angeles has struggled to get everyone healthy and on the court while Miami has been relatively healthy this year. Here are the keys to tonight’s game:
I can’t stress this enough, the Lakers need to help each other out on the defensive end to have a chance to win tonight. Metta World Peace is a great defender, and has the strength to bang with LeBron James in the post, but he can’t stay with him on the perimeter, as James constantly drives in against bulkier opponents like World Peace. Earl Clark, on the other hand, is too much of a light weight to handle LeBron in the post. Help defense will be required, more than likely from Dwight Howard, but the other players have to rotate to help Howard. Make Miami take jump shots, and not layups and dunks. Kobe Bryant will likely be covering Dwyane Wade in what is the most balanced matchup of the night and Bryant better be ready for the physical game Wade brings to the table. He’s not Kyrie Irving or Brandon Jennings (speedster point guards with good jumpers), Wade is a whole other beast. I expect Bryant to sag off of Wade, as he is not the best 3 point shooter (Wade knows this and his limited his outside jumpers the past couple of years. He has only taken 39 three pointers this season). Wade is fast, agile and can jump out of the building. Think of him as a 6’4’’ version of James, as he is physically gifted and has great vision and passing ability to accompany his drive heavy offensive game. If at all possible, the Lakers want to make Chris Bosh and Co. beat them, not James or Wade. It’s possible for the Lakers to play the old Kobe Defense teams used to do against them. Let James play one on one with World Peace and don’t send too much help D, while putting the clamps on the rest of James’ teammates, though I seriously doubt they go this route.
The Heat are a notoriously bad rebounding team, they are 30th in rebounds, and are 5th in opponent rebounding. The Lakers need to take advantage and get second chance opportunities for themselves, while limiting the second chance opportunities for Miami. The Lakers way out size and out bulk the Heat with Howard in the middle, and complimentary pieces like the 6’10’’ Clark and Pau Gasol (who will play tonight). The Lakers are 8th in rebounding, and 14th in opponent rebounding. Los Angeles needs to come out crashing the boards with energy to have a shot at winning.
· Sink their open jumpshots.
We know the offensive skills of Bryant and Howard will be the main work force for the Lakers tonight, but when Bryant, Howard and Steve Nash pass the ball, the role players need to be prepared to sink their jumpers. World Peace needs to be consistent from deep, as well as Antawn Jamison and to a lesser extent, Clark from mid-range. This extends to free throws as well; the Lakers can’t leave points on the board and expect to beat the defending champions.
· Pound the ball down low.
Miami is a very undersized team. Their tallest player who gets regular minutes is Bosh at 6’10’’ and there’s no way he could handle Howard in the post, as Bosh only weighs 228 pounds to Howard’s 265 pounds. Miami’s starting center is Joel Anthony, who is also a bit undersized for the position (6’9’’, 245 lb). If the Lakers establish their dominance down low with Howard and Gasol, it could open up the game for shooters like Jamison and Meeks.
· Last but not least: Limit turnovers.
Against most teams, turnovers will keep the Lakers down, but not out. Against Miami, turnovers will completely take Los Angeles out of the game. Miami is the best fastbreak team in the NBA, mostly on the speed and athleticism of Wade and James. Considering how much older and slower the Lakers are, they can’t afford to make this game a track meet. Grind out possessions and take care of the ball and L.A. has a chance.
The good news for the Lakers is Gasol is coming back tonight, but he will be coming off the bench. His size will be important for rebounding purposes and help defense. Gasol will most likely anchor the second unit when Bryant, Howard and Nash go out of the game late in the first quarter, early in the second quarter. The big story tonight is Kobe vs. LeBron, but if the Lakers let it get to that, they will lose tonight. A team game must be played in order to beat Miami.