Showtime: 2:00pm PT
Plot: "LeBron! Wade! Gasol! Sacre! Christmas Day on ABC!"
Not exactly the advertising tagline the World Wide Leader was hoping for when they set the schedule this past summer.
The Miami Heat barge into STAPLES Center tomorrow for what's become a mainstay of the annual Christmas Day slate of NBA games. The Lakers will have played Miami five times in the past decade, three times during the Shaquille O'Neal/Dwyane Wade era, and another right after the LeBron James/Chris Bosh/Wade team came together. In those four previous contests, LA has prevailed exactly zero times, a noticeable black mark on an otherwise sterling Kobe Bryant career. Not that he will have any chance to amend that this season.
Bryant, Steve Nash and Steve Blake will all be out of commission for tomorrow's game, making an already difficult game against one of, if not the league's best teams even more challenging. Still, even with perfect attendance from their entire roster, containing this Heat team is extraordinarily difficult. Unless you can finding a way to defend LeBron James. Which no one can.
The Heat have gotten off to a 21-6 start, with the league's 2nd best offense and customary 8th best defense. James is of course leading the way, averaging 25 ppg, 7 rpg, 6 apg on 60% shooting from the field and 42% from the three-point line, all while playing All-NBA caliber defense. Wade (20/5/5) and Bosh (15/6) are both performing admirably as the best second and third bananas in the league, while the supporting cast that's won two consecutive titles has stayed largely unchanged. To sum it up, the Miami Heat are the defending champions, and certainly playing like it.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are still a mess following Kobe Bryant's knee injury last week. They were destroyed Monday night in Phoenix during a 117-90 rout in which they only had 12 assists all night. It's clear that the Mike D'Antoni Lakers are completely lost without any stability at the point guard position, looking just as bad as the stat lines have indicated. Luckily for LA, the team might finally be getting what they wanted most for Christmas: a natural, bona fide 1-guard.
Jordan Farmar returns tomorrow after missing a month of action with a torn hamstring, which hopefully will be the first step towards getting this team back on track. As of now, there's no word on if Farmar will play, if he will start or how many minutes he could play, but seeing how desperate this team is for any type of on-court playmaking, there might be no choice.
If the Lakers are to win this game, they'll need to attack the Heat's primary weakness: rebounding. With Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol on the floor, LA must outrebound the league's worst team on the boards, control the pace and dominate offensively in the paint. Over the past few years, the Indiana Pacers have painted that same blueprint on how to beat the Heat--bog down the game, bruise on the inside and hit them as hard as legally possible.
The Lakers will need a monumental effort to win this game...in fact, a Christmas miracle. Still, with Farmar on the mend, perhaps LA is headed in the right direction.
From Silver Screen & Roll to everyone reading, Merry Christmas and enjoy the best day of NBA Basketball all year.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino