Lakers-Heat Preview: Ghosts of Christmas Past

When you look at the Miami Heat, what do you see? Besides, that is, a five-game losing streak and an object of near-universal loathing among basketball fans.

The sins of the Heat are, to some degree at least, in the eye of the beholder. If you're Adrian Wojnarowski, you see a destructive psychodrama unfolding between mismatched stars. If you're Zach Lowe, you see the need for a real big man to play alongside Chris Bosh. If you're Dean Oliver, you see a team that dribbles too much. If you're Phil Jackson, you see a bunch of dudes who are maybe a bit too public with the crying. And if you're actually Chris Bosh, you see an offense that isn't giving enough touches in the post to Chris Bosh.

I don't see anything of those things. I don't disagree with them necessarily (except for the part about Bosh in the post), but none of them is the image my brain processes when I look at the Miami Heat. No matter how many games they lose, no matter how many different ways they screw up in crunch time, no matter how many Internet memes they unwittingly create with their tin-eared statements to the press, I see only one thing when the Heat enter my field of vision. I see the team that blasted the hell out of the Lakers on Christmas Day. And my lust for revenge drives me to tears. (Relax, Phil: I'm writing this from a bathroom stall.)

December 25, 2010 was not a proud moment for Lakerdom. For the second year in a row, LeBron James dropped down our chimney like a Super-Evil Santa, ripped out our heart and held it aloft for the world to see. Neither Ron Artest nor Matt Barnes nor anyone else employed by the Lakers had a hope of stopping him, as he piled up 27 points, 10 assists, 11 rebounds, four steals and just a single turnover en route to a 96 to 80 asskicking. That made three straight victories for LeBron over the champs. Despite all the talk of how signing Artest would endow the Lakers with a pitbull defender who could slow down LBJ, the Lakers have yet to defeat him in the Ron-Ron era.

The other two members of Miami's Big Three were scarcely less impressive. Though playing on a gimpy leg, Dwyane Wade took apart the Lakers' D with expert pick-and-roll execution. And Bosh may be a punchline nowadays, but none of us were laughing at him back then. With 24 points and 13 boards, he was the best big man on the floor. Even the reviled Miami supporting cast came through, contributing to a fiery defensive effort that held the Lakers below a point per possession. Given some of the turd salads the Lakers have served up this year (losing by 19 to the Bucks, losing by any amount to the Cavaliers), it's not credible to say that Christmas was the worst loss of the season. For my money, however, it's easily the one I least enjoy remembering.

Happily, much has changed since then. Despite a few stumbles, the Lakers have recovered their forward lean and put aside concerns about their early-season tendency to stink it up against top opponents. Pau Gasol is once again looking like one of the two or three best power forwards in the game. Artest has bounced back from a winter of trade-demand rumors and weirdly ineffective play to become a solid and occasionally superb role player. Most dramatically, Andrew Bynum is streets ahead of where he was when the Heat last saw him. On Christmas he was still working his way back into match shape and came off the bench for just 18 inconsequential minutes. Now he's giving the Laker defense a formidable anchor in the paint, and he's not too shabby scoring around the rim, either.

Out Miami way, things aren't so sunny. They've slipped to third in the East, well behind the Bulls and Celtics. They've come up short in several games against fellow title aspirants. LeBron is having another MVP-type season, and Wade is putting up nice numbers, but Bosh looks and sounds like he'd much rather be back on Pandora. The bench has been stupendously bad. Actually, scratch that: almost everyone outside of the Big Three, starters included, has been stupendously bad. The two Mikes, Bibby and Miller, have been utter disasters, and Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony have been only slightly more useful than Theo Ratliff. At the moment the vibe surrounding this team seems truly poisonous.

The Lakers tonight need to tune all of it out. None of this crap has anything to do with them. They need to forget that they've won eight in a row and that the world's expecting them to rip through this staggering team. They're not here to prove a point or to preen and flex or to show the world that LEBRON WILL NEVER BE A TRUE CHAMPION LIKE KOBE!!1! They're just here to get another win and move on with their lives. It's about executing possession by possession.

What would that look like? Offensive keys include playing inside-out, making good cuts without the ball and making smart, decisive reads with it. The Lakers' passing has been excellent lately: guys are countering defensive pressure by finding open teammates either on the weakside or flying to the rim on lobs. Move the rock to where the defense doesn't think it'll be, and there'll be plenty of good looks for everyone.

On D, it's no great mystery. LeBron and Wade have to be kept out of the lane. When they come burning off the corner into the paint, they can collapse the entire structure of a defense and create all sorts of scoring options. Drew has to stay out of foul trouble. James and Wade are going to launch themselves right into his chest and dare the refs not to blow the whistle. If Drew can swat or alter a few shots early, it could dissuade subsequent forays, but if he picks up a couple quickies - especially if they're cheap fouls, like if he's hedging a pick and roll 16 feet out - slowing the Heat down will get trickier.

By the way, this game is at 4:00 p.m. California time. It was originally scheduled for 5:00 but got moved up an hour. You know where we'll be, so don't be late. 

 

                   Lakers                 

                    Heat                   

 


League Rank


League Rank

Record...................................

46-19

5

43-21

6

Net Points Per Game..............

+6.6

3

+6.5

4

Pace.......................................

90.9

23

91.1

19

Offensive Rating.....................

111.7

2

110.6

5

Turnover Rate (Off.).............

12.6%

3

13.3%

15

FTA/FGA (Off.)....................

0.29

17

0.36

3

Free-Throw %......................

78.6

7

76.5

16

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)............

0.22

15

0.23

12

3PT% (Off.).........................

35.7

13

36.5

11

Effective FG% (Off.)............

50.6

10

51.8

7

True Shooting% (Off.)...........

55.0

11

56.6

4

Off Rebounding Rate............

29.8%

3

24.5%

23

Defensive Rating.....................

104.5

8

103.5

6

Turnover Rate (Def.).............

12.8%

20

12.7%

25

FTA/FGA (Def.)...................

0.24

1

0.30

12

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)............

0.24

21

0.25

24

3PT% (Def.)........................

33.6

4

33.8

7

Effective FG% (Def.)............

47.8

5

47.2

3

True Shooting% (Def.)..........

51.6

3

51.5

2

Def Rebounding Rate............

72.5%

20

74.8%

9

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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