It sure has seemed like ages since the Lakers last took the court – terrible loss in Chicago Monday night. Tonight they will face the Miami Heat as they get towards the end of their annual Grammy road trip (currently 2-2). The two teams previously met in Los Angeles on Christmas where the Heat walked away with a slim victory.
The biggest difference in tonight’s game from their first meeting will be the absence of Dwyane Wade. Wade has been sitting out some games this year to keep his knees fresh and ready for the playoffs, and tonight will be one of those days he takes off. Wade had a great game in Los Angeles when he had 23 points (65 percent shooting), seven assists, six rebounds and three steals. Yes, the Heat still have two great players, but Wade’s absence is very big.
Despite losing in an embarrassing fashion against the Bulls, the Lakers seem to have turned it around from the drought they were in. After going 1-12 during a 13-game stretch – and looked bad during it – the team has won two games and lost one on the final possession. The Lakers have buckled down a considerable amount on defense, and it’s proving to be a huge factor. Tonight the Lakers get the ginormous task of trying to slow down one of the best offensive teams in the entire league. The Heat are only behind Portland in offensive efficiency, eighth in points averaged and first in shooting percentage. It could be a long game if the Lakers don’t defend shooters and leave the paint open.
Attention: Nick Young is on fire. After his 31-point performance against the Bulls, Young became the first (!!) Laker to score 30 points this season. Over the last two games, Young is averaging 30 points on 51 percent shooting. Young will need to do his best to repeat his recent performances to beat the Heat. On Christmas, Young didn’t have the best shooting night as he scored 20 points on 39 percent shooting.
One thing that really hurts the Heat’s defense is shooting – well, every defense. The Heat rotate and switch as fast as anyone in the league, and they really push teams to move the ball around quickly. Jodie Meeks is a player that can help slow their defense down. Over the last 10 games, Meeks is averaging 18.1 points on 43.9 percent shooting. He was very successful the last time the two teams played: 17 points on 50 percent shooting. Meeks is in a great groove, and the Heat will give him the opportunity to continue it. Meeks simply has to knock down his shots.
Ryan Kelly could play as an x-factor tonight. Kelly has been nothing but stellar in his newest opportunity. Over the last three games, Kelly is averaging 16.7 points on 55 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds. Kelly’s success has a lot to do with the fact that he fits very well in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Kelly has done a great job at stretching the floor and taking efficient shots. Heck, his defense has even been impressive. Hopefully the young rookie’s success continues tonight.
Wesley Johnson has cooled down a considerable amount. After scoring in the double-digits six-straight games, Johnson has totaled only nine points in his last two games. Johnson is another player that will have his moments to attack Miami’s defense – he’ll just need to make the most out of his opportunities. Johnson scored 12 points on 40 percent shooting the last time the teams played.
Kendall Marshall might be the biggest difference for the Lakers’ offense against the Heat. Marshall has been sensational, but is coming off a very average performance against the Bulls: three points (25 percent shooting) and eight assists. The Lakers will be hoping for the Marshall of the prior five games who averaged 13 points (44 percent shooting) and 12.8 assists. The Lakers will have a great shot at winning if Marshall can get easy looks for his shooters and get his big men in good spots.
LeBron James is in quite the zone. For most of the season, James has not looked to score that much and has had solid all-around performances, but lately he has been scoring much more. In the last three games, James is averaging 31 points (52.3 percent shooting), 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. James was all the buzz after the first meeting with the Lakers due to his highlight plays, but he really didn’t have a big game – 19 points (50 percent shooting), eight rebounds and four assists. With Wade out again, the Lakers should probably expect James to be in attack mode.
Chris Bosh has also been on a very good streak. In his last five games, Bosh is averaging 22.6 points (57.2 percent shooting) and 6.6 rebounds. Bosh was probably the biggest difference maker in the first meeting when he had 23 points (50 percent shooting) and 11 rebounds. It’s extremely hard to beat the Heat when Bosh is playing that well.
Pau Gasol had a solid performance in the first meeting with the Heat – 13 points (50 percent shooting) and 13 rebounds. The Heat are one of the smaller teams in the Association, so Gasol should be putting up big double-doubles against them. Gasol is also playing extremely well lately – 20.4 points (50 percent shooting), 12.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in his last 10 games. Gasol must look to be a dominate force in the paint tonight. If he’s aggressive, he will have a good game.
Expected Starting Lineups
Key reserves: Nick Young and Jordan Hill
Key reserves: Chris Andersen and Norris Cole
The game starts at 5:00 PM PST and will be broadcast live on TNT.
This was an article by Andrew Ross. You can follow him on Twitter here: @AJRoss94