Vegas still believes in the defending champs. Sorta. Point spreads for tomorrow's game between the Lakers and Miami Heat are starting to pop up, and the consensus line is Lakers by three (though ESPN is saying Lakers by two). This implies that the two teams are viewed roughly as equals, with the purp and yellow given a slight edge in the matchup because of home-court advantage. I do wonder what the spread would be if the Lakers hadn't got brutally iced by the Milwaukee Bucks in their final tune-up.
Twenty-four hours from now, we'll know whether the sports books' optimism was misplaced. Until then, let's tune out the holiday crap and focus on the matchups we'll be watching tomorrow. For a little different approach, I'm doing an old-school newspaper-style preview, comparing the two sides position by position. Change can be a good thing, a motivational poster with a kitty on it once taught me.
Starting Point Guards: Carlos Arroyo has one job, which is to chill until someone kicks the ball out to him, at which point he's supposed to send it airborne toward the hoop. He's acquitted himself adequately, having made 50% of this threes this season. The good news is, Arroyo doesn't attack off the dribble much, so for one game at least we won't have to watch Derek Fisher escort an opposing point guard into the paint. Fish, for his part, is going to do one of two things tomorrow. He's either going to make a game-winning shot in the final seconds, or he's going to drench the entire contest in his unique brand of suck. There's no middle ground with him in a game like this. Slight Advantage: Miami.
Starting Wings: Ahh, now here's where the action will be. Kobe Bryant against Dwyane Wade. Ron Artest against LeBron James. Magnifique! Kobe should be in peak form. He was the only Laker to play well against Milwaukee, and he'll have had four days of rest (whereas the Heat played last night in Phoenix). He'll be responsible for conducting the Laker attack and finding the weaknesses in the Miami D. Wade has a sore knee and didn't play in Phoenix, but of course he'll go tomorrow.
Ron is going to be crucial in this one. He'll need to be physical with LeBron without sending him to the line too much. And he simply must find a way to contribute on offense, both because the Lakers need someone to make outside shots - in his past 11 games, Ron has connected on just two of 14 three point attempts - and because the Lakers can't afford to let LeBron play free safety on D. Advantage: Miami.
Starting Bigs: The Lakers should go inside early, go inside often, and then go inside some more. Chris Bosh and Zydrunas Ilgauskas cannot guard Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. I want to see Gasol setting up 12 feet or so from the hoop so he can either take Z off the dribble or just pop a midrange. If he keeps moving, Odom should have no getting to the rim off the bounce, with off-ball cuts by crashing the offensive glass. Miami forces a lot of misses, so the champs need to keep plays alive to generate second-chance points. The right approach here will get Bosh in foul trouble and result in heavy minutes for the likes of Juwan Howard and Joel Anthony. Big Advantage: Lakers.
Bench: Miami's second unit just got some reinforcements in the form of Mike Miller, but he's yet to make a shot in 23 minutes played. After that there's a decent backup point in Mario Chalmers and three-point specialists Eddie House and James Jones. The Killer B's can be a game-changing force tomorrow. They should look to run when they can and feed Andrew Bynum near the cup. I could see them treating us to a nice 12-2 burst at some point. Advantage: Lakers.
Coaching: Erik Spoelstra weathered the organizational bitchery that erupted when his squad was stumbling along at 9-8. He's now got the Heat playing splendid all-around ball. The Lakers have Phil Jackson and, much more important, Brian Shaw. Advantage: Lakers.
Intangibles: Miami Sun-Sentinel beat reporter Ira Winderman has praised Mike Miller for his intangibles. Ira was possibly being sarcastic. Also, someone quoted by True Hoop compliments Howard and Erick Dampier for their "crafty intangibles." The Lakers, of course, employ the industry standard for intangibles, Derek Fisher. If intangibles were an Olympic sport, Fish would win the gold every time, even in years when the Olympics weren't held. Advantage: Lakers.
Bieberness: The Bieb wore Phil Jackson's championship ring on opening night. This past Tuesday, though, he tweeted the following:
The @miamiheat just did work. Lebron with the triple double. #BEAST
Hmm. Tough call here. Bieber Fever seems pretty evenly divided. In the end, I say his physical contact with Phil's jewelry gives the champs the edge in Biebosity. Slight Advantage: Lakers.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.