On Tap: The Miami Heat

 —  March 17, 2005

On all-hype-all-the-time television we’ve been hearing about Shaq vs. Kobe tonight and how Kobe is wearing the black hat for forcing Shaq out. Talk radio guys can’t shut up about how Jerry Buss made the wrong decision and Kobe got what he wanted. Rather than make the retort myself, I turn to Chris Monjoy of Hoopsworld, who said it beautifully in a piece today about the Lakers not making the playoffs:

And To Kobe Bryant who critics will say “Got exactly what he wanted.” But do you really think Kobe wanted a dreadfully unbalanced roster, a clueless coach, no defense at the point, and no real interior presence? Anyone who’s watched the Lakers this year knows Kobe played his heart out every game, and did everything he could to be a team player.

Last night on the Southern California Sports Report, the host dé jour (I’m not going to take the effort to look up her name as fast as they change anchors around on that show) asked Brad Turner, the Laker beat writer for the Press-Enterprise, a question about the Lakers being in “disarray.” His response was that they were not in disarray, they were just “disjointed.”

This led to a conversation between my grammarian wife and I about just how far apart disarray and disjointed are. (That gives you just a little window into the wild life I have at home.)

But it does lead to a bigger question: Just how far are the Lakers away from being good? Right now I would describe them as an “average” NBA team, hovering just above .500 (for at least another 48 hours). How far away are they from being talked about being on par with, if not San Antonio, teams like Seattle and Dallas?

My gut instinct is they are really just a couple of affordable guys and a good coach away from being good. They need a guard who can defend the point and a real four inside. They need a coach who has a philosophy of what kind of team he wants (triangle or fast break) and who preaches a defensive system from day one.

Get those three things and I think this would be a good Laker team. Get there and then we’ll talk about the tweaks needed to become a championship team.

We’ll get a pretty good picture of how far the Lakers are from good right now when they face a legitimately good team in the Heat.

While the media focuses on Shaq vs. Kobe, the real issue tonight is who is going to stop Dwayne Wade. Back on Christmas day Wade had 29 points (the Heat team high) and 10 assists. Tonight I expect to see Kobe on him until Kobe picks up a couple of fouls. Other guys — Caron Butler, Jumaine Jones and even the Matador defender Chucky Atkins (Ole!) — will get their chance and have to step up. And it’s not just those guys, the Heat have the third most efficient offense in the league (109 points per 100 possessions and an eFG% of 52.6% for the season) and it’s going to take a team effort to stop them. Chris Mihm and his sore back are going to have to keep Shaq from dominating.

Last time these two teams met the Lakers took it to overtime by shooting 52.4% (eFG%) and leading the way was Lamar Odom who had 24 points on 9 of 15 shooting (the four is the weakest spot defensively for the Heat, according to 82games.com). Kobe had 42 points. Both of them will need big nights again and someone else will have to pitch in to get the team into the win column.

The Heat are good. Tonight a disjointed Laker team will get to measure themselves against that standard.