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Lakers vs. Heat Preview: Jimmy Butler brings surprising Miami squad into Staples Center to face LeBron James, Anthony Davis

Doesn’t it feel like forever ago that LeBron James played for the Miami Heat?

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Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Once upon a time, a Miami Heat team led by a newly-signed superstar wing heading into Staples Center meant the Los Angeles Lakers in for a long night because LeBron James was about to do something insane on a big stage. Now, it’s James donning the purple and gold, getting ready to face off against Jimmy Butler and his former team.

I like this version of the matchup quite a bit more than previous iterations. Really, though, it feels like legitimate eons ago that James’ Heatles were traveling the country to vicious crowds who held him taking his talents to South Beach against him. Anyway, there’s a game tonight.

Butler and the Heat are one of the league’s top surprises thus far and are coming off an impressive win in Phoenix — another team outplaying expectations currently. While the opening to Miami’s schedule is nothing to write home about, well, neither is the Lakers’, and Miami currently holds the NBA’s fourth-best net rating (7.7), which is just slightly behind the Lakers’ 8.8 mark.

Miami has gone about their success in a slightly different way than L.A. has, relying more on offense, while the Lakers have stifled teams with their impressive defense. All these ratings come with obvious small sample size caveats, but this does seem to make for a very interesting matchup.

One thing to watch for Friday night is how the Lakers will open the game after having a couple days off between tonight and their undefeated road trip. First games back from road trips tend to be trap games, and Miami simply plays way too hard to be taken at all lightly, even on the second half of a back-to-back. The Lakers haven’t exactly lit the world on fire to open games this year anyway, and if they aren’t careful, this could get pretty ugly pretty quickly.

Kyle Kuzma was asked about the matchup after practice on Thursday, and echoed that sentiment while describing the Heat:

“Athletic team. Junkyard dogs. Starts with their leader Jimmy Butler. Bam (Adebayo) is out there running and blocking and defending. They just get after it and are a great team. That’s kind of that Heat culture that they’ve had for years and years. They just have a lot of hungry guys... They present a big challenge for us.”

Speaking of Kuzma, he’ll be looking to build off of his first legitimately good quarter of basketball Friday night. The Lakers did some interesting things to get him going, so it’ll be worth watching if they can continue those things, and what Miami might do to make life difficult in that regard.

At the end of the day, though, as with all games the Lakers play, it’s mostly going to come down to how the stars play. In this regard, the Lakers have the best and second-best player in the matchup, but if Davis floats the way he did in Chicago, Butler will take full advantage and look to steal a big road win in Staples Center.

In a couple of status updates for this game, we should note that Avery Bradley is considered questionable, while Rajon Rondo is doubtful.

Meanwhile, James looks set to make some history:

Tip-off for the Friday bout is 7:30 p.m. PST. The game will be televised locally by Spectrum SportsNet, and nationally by NBATV.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can yell at this author on Twitter @AnthonyIrwinLA.

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