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Cool Kids Enjoy Reading About the Heat and Bobcats

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When the month of March comes to an end, the Lakers on the season will have played more road games than home. They'll finally have cured the imbalance in their schedule created when they enjoyed 17 of their first 21 games amid the comforts of Staples Center. To get to that point four weeks hence, they'll spend a lot of time in distant, unfriendly locales. The Lakers will see their home fans only three times this month, against 11 true road contests (which is to say, none of them is against the Clippers). The safari around the league begins with a back-to-back against the Miami Heat tonight and the Charlotte Bobcats tomorrow.

Taking stock of the big picture: the Lakers have effectively wrapped up home-court advantage in the West and lurk 1½ games (plus a tiebreaker) behind Cleveland. To finish with the league's best record, they'll probably need at least 63 wins. That requires them to go at least 17-4 the rest of the way. The schedule isn't wall-to-wall with top opponents, but there are a half-dozen or so games against, say, the best third of the league.

In other words, if the Lakers do aspire to HCA throughout the Finals, it's not a terrible stretch to say that tonight and tomorrow nights' games are must-wins.

Catching Up With the Heat

Last time the Lakers played the Miami Heat, this happened. That was on December 4 of last year and kicked off Kobe Bryant's remarkable season-long string of buzzer-beaters. Since the 109-108 loss to the Lakers, the Heat have churned along at a more or less 0.500 level. They're eighth in the Eastern Conference right now and are trying to hold off Charlotte (to keep from dropping into the lottery) and maybe climb into the seven hole (to avoid the honor of getting hammered by the Cavs in the first round).

Team President Pat Riley stood pat at the trade deadline, although not for lack of trying. He made a grab for both Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer but came away empty, just as he did in his attempt to pry Lamar Odom from the Lakers last summer. It's all part of his desperate, "Keep Dwyane Wade from Bailing" campaign, which is weird because I would've thought the opportunity to ball with Rafer Alston was enough to get Wade to sign a long-term extension.


Wade hasn't played this year at the supernova brilliance of his 2008-09 season, but he's still awesome and the guy you need to deal with if you're going to beat Miami. The Lakers did not do a solid job of this in December. Kobe really, really needs not to cheat away from him tonight, and Shannon Brown will have to hold his own for a few minutes here and there. The Heat aren't a good scoring team on the whole. Their best hope for points will be Wade getting to the rim or dishing from penetration to Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem or Jermaine O'Neal, all of whom have some stepback range.

Miami is an above-average defensive team. They force turnovers, get a hand in your face and keep the defensive boards pretty clean. As usual, the matchup advantage for the Lakers will be on the inside. In O'Neal and Haslem, the Heat have two decent big-man defenders. Beasley is not a good defender and, when he's in the game, he needs to be attacked. (Lamar, I'm looking in your direction.) The Lakers have enough ways to generate points that outscoring a punchless crew like the Heat should be very doable.

Catching Up With the Bobcats

Erghh, these guys again! Even when the Lakers manage to beat the Bobcats, as they did 99 to 97 on February 3, it's excruciating to watch. The Cats drag you into the kind of slow, grinding, use-all-the-24-second-clock wrestling matches that the Lakers hate to play. The Lake Show's win back in February over Charlotte was, I feel confident in saying, their worst victory of the year. The Bobcats were without Gerald Wallace and still stayed in it until the end. The Lakers played lifelessly.

At the trade deadline the Bobcats got their paws on forward Tyrus Thomas and center Theo Ratliff. Thomas adds obvious depth and frontline defense. And believe it or not, Ratliff is getting minutes - starting, even. Regular Charlotte centers Tyson Chandler, Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop are all out injured, so the 36-year-old Ratliff gets the call. (He's really bad, by the way.)


The Bobcats are even more offensively stretched than Miami. They're the NBA's worst in committing turnovers and don't have many (or perhaps any) guys who can create their own good looks. Stephen Jackson is their volume shooter. Raymond Felton has developed into a roughly league-average point guard. Wallace and Thomas can do damage on the offensive glass. Beyond that, Larry Brown turns to a lot of deadweight: Boris Diaw, DJ Augustin, Stephen Graham.... you get the idea. Like the Heat, the Bobcats shouldn't be able to find enough points to hang with the Lakers.

Charlotte's had a nice run, but they look like a team that's ready to drop out of the playoff picture. Jackson and Wallace have both played crazy minutes this year: apiece they average over 40 a game. They've lost five of their last six, including a 24-point beating in Boston last night. They have Theo Ratliff in the starting lineup. Usually I go into road back-to-backs hoping for merely a split. This time I want and expect the sweep. Given the opposition, it's really not asking too much.





46-15 (2)

30-31 (19)

28-31 (20)


+6.7 (2)

+0.7 (14)

+0.2 (15)


93.6 (9)

90.4 (28)

90.6 (27)


108.9 (10)

105.6 (21)

103.9 (24)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.3% (2)

12.7% (7)

15.1% (30)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.28 (26)

0.29 (20)

0.34 (4)

Free-Throw %

77.3 (8)

74.8 (18)

74.4 (21)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.22 (11)

0.21 (20)

0.22 (13)

3PT% (Off.)

34.9 (17)

34.6 (18)

34.0 (23)

Effective FG% (Off.)

49.9 (14)

49.0 (20)

48.9 (21)

True Shooting% (Off.)

53.9 (15)

53.0 (22)

53.7 (17)

Off Rebounding Rate

27.0% (14)

26.0% (19)

25.9% (20)


101.8 (1)

104.8 (10)

103.2 (5)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.5% (17)

13.9% (9)

14.8% (3)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.26 (1)

0.34 (25)

0.27 (4)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.23 (22)

0.23 (24)

0.27 (30)

3PT% (Def.)

31.8 (1)

33.8 (3)

34.2 (6)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.6 (2)

48.4 (7)

49.6 (14)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.4 (1)

53.2 (8)

53.3 (9)

Def Rebounding Rate

74.6% (8)

75.1% (6)

74.5% (9)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData. Charlotte stats, except for won-loss record, don't include Wednesday's game against Boston.

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