A game that has become a holiday tradition. Well, at least that is how ABC is selling this one, Personally, I can think of a dozen of matchups Iâ€™d rather see that donâ€™t even involve the Lakers. And what does it say about the marketing suits at NBA headquarters that the Shaq/Kobe rivalry (and you know that is why they chose this game, not Wade) is still their premiere match up three years after the trade?
Champs toâ€¦. If the playoffs started today, the Heat at 12-14 would be on the outside looking in. And frighteningly, they arenâ€™t playing as good as their record (if you use point differential they should be more like 9-16). Not that you can expect that to last, even with whatever Shaq can give when he returns they should be good enough to make the playoffs in the East.
Dwyane Wade is a god. Right now, Wade might be the MVP of the league. He has the best PER in the league (27.49) while carrying the second highest percentage of his teamâ€™s offense in the league (32% when on the floor). He is the classic slasher guard with both quickness and hesitation moves. Heâ€™s only shooting 48.9% (eFG%) and 23.7% from three, but he gets to the line a lot and that bumps his true shooting percentage (think points per shot attempt) up to 56.9%, a very good number considering how much of the offense he has to carry.
Wade against the world. Problem is, outside of Wade (and with Shaq sitting on the sideline in his $3,000 suit) the Heat are cold.
Alonzo Mourning is the starting center but any more than 20 minutes a night is too much for him at his age (that said, the man is still a good defender). Udonis Haslem has been solid on offense and is pulling down a team-best 15.6% of the available rebounds.
But after that, well, the Heat are counting on key production from Jason Kapono. Now, the former UCLA star can shoot the three â€” hitting 49.1% so far this year â€” but if you need him to be a key cogâ€¦ thatâ€™s why the Heat are 28th in the league in offensive efficiency (103.1 points per 100 possessions, for some comparison the Lakers are at 110.4).
Things to look for: Just like Kobe, you are not going to stop Wade. But maybe the Lakers can make him less efficient. The two things to do are force him left (he used to be weak going left, now heâ€™s human, but itâ€™s better than his superhuman stats to the right) and to force him to take jump shots (shooting juts 39.4% [eFG%] on jumpers this season). Of course, thatâ€™s all easier said than done.
This could be another big night for Mo Evans off the bench. Along with Kobe, look for Evans to get some key minutes on Wade to see if he can do to him what he did to Vince Carter in the fourth quarter Friday (1 for 6).
This should be another big night for the Laker bench â€” they are hot and the Heat are not a deep team. The Lakers should be able to extend with guys like Farmar, Bynum and Vlad Rad (doing his little Borat dance).
Because there is no Shaq, the Heat tend to go small, bringing in guys like James Posey when Mourning goes off.
Smushaholics and UPS? The Heat have been torched most this season by opposing point guards (opponent PER of 18.2) and at the center spot (17.5). What this means is that Smush Parker could have a big game, as can UPS (Kwame â€œwhat can Brown do for you?). Although, I think Bynum may also go big against Michael Doleac and whoever else the Heat have on the bench to throw at him while Mourning rests.
Have yourself a Merry Christmas (or whatever and wherever you choose to celebrate), and take some time today (and then throughout the year) to enjoy time with your family and the things that really matter.