As we've been made aware since, oh, the second week of July, the Los Angeles Lakers will face off tomorrow against the Miami Heat. The hype machine has been working on this game all season long, but the machine has kicked into overdrive this week. For example, ESPN, which can certainly be labeled a key cog in Miami's hype machine, was running previews and features for this game on Monday. Which would be fine, if not for the fact that the Heat played the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
Whether they intend it or not, the Heat are the NBA's hype flagship. No matter who they are facing, it's a story. No matter how they are playing, the national public are kept up to date, whether they like it or not. Some of the hype is a necessary by-product of the events of this summer, in which LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami. However, the Heat have certainly done their fair share to make sure hype's spotlight never leaves them. The comments and events which have come out of the team make it riveting reality television, in a Real Housewives of Orange County sort of way. There's been some drama (the disconnect between LeBron and coach Eric Spoelstra, the injuries, Chris Bosh's inconsistency), but mostly people pay attention to the Heat to see what they will do and say next, and the two new stars on the team have provided a consistent stream of "He said what?!?" moments. Just the other day, James said he is in favor of contraction (because he thinks everybody should have a superteam). It doesn't matter whether one agrees with him or not, my question is why the hell is LeBron talking about that in the middle of December? The Heat easily have more "newsworthy" quotes this season than the Lakers have had in the past three seasons.
If the Heat are the NBA's hype team, the Lakers are the anti-hype team. L.A. seemingly goes out of its way to play down expectations and keep themselves out of the headlines (Ron Artest excluded). They hardly ever kill an opponent (like Miami does in just about every win), they don't put together long win streaks that might gain attention. In fact, if not for being back-to-back defending champions, being one of the NBA's most storied franchises, and including one of the most polarizing presences in all of basketball, the Lakers would be generating about as much buzz right now as a Caffeine-Free Coke. Only the name on the front of their jersey and the trophies sitting in their trophy case are keeping this team from fading into obscurity as just another good team.
A key component to hype is the attachment and exaggeration of consequences for certain events. After all, the very act of hyping an event is making effort to convince other people of the event's importance, and if an event has no consequences, how important can it be? For the regular season, it can be difficult to really hype a game, because the players play so often that the importance of one game can not be singled out. So, any regular season basketball game which needs the hype is labeled as a "statement game". Team X needs to prove they aren't afraid of their opponents, that they can win on the road, etc. Team Y needs to use this game to get back on track, or to confirm that they are still on top of the NBA heap. It's important because, while the actual result will have little to no bearing on things, we can still derive future probabilities because of this game.
As usual, the hype machine is full of crap. There is no such thing as a statement game in December, especially not for the Los Angeles Lakers. Two years ago, the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics at home comfortably, and everybody said it was a statement of their new found toughness. They went on to win the championship. Last season, they were destroyed at home by LeBron James' former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This time it was the Cavs making a statement that all of their pieces fit well together and they were a true contender. But the Lakers went on to win the championship again. I guess last year's statement was a Be Right Back sign, with a little clock that pointed 5 months ahead.
There is no one game in the regular season that will paint a clear picture of how the postseason will play out, and today's contest is no exception. The regular season is to be enjoyed on an individual game basis, but analyzed with broad strokes and generalizations. The Lakers know all this, so you can bet they will treat this like they do any other game. They will try to win, and if they succeed, the game will be forgotten. If they don't succeed, the game will be forgotten.
Will Miami act the same way, or will they pursue a statement win? Who knows, but I will tell you this. Anybody trying to make a statement in December knows nothing about making a statement in June.