Preview & Chat: The Miami Heat

Kurt —  February 28, 2008

Records: Lakers 40-17 (1 seed); Heat 10-44 (more ping pong balls than any other franchise)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 1133.6 (2nd); Heat 102.8 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (5th); Heat 110.3 (24th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Heat: Jason Williams, Dwayne Wade, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem, Mark Blount

Lakers Notes: In a recent Q&A at Clipsnation, I was asked about Kobe and the MVP race and wrote this:

But let me say this — the reason Kobe is getting his teammates involved more this year (and his shots attempts per game are down 7 from two seasons ago) has a lot to do with the talent around him. Last season when the double came to Kobe he had passing options such as Kwame “hands of stone” Brown in the post, Smush “where am I now” Parker at the point and Luke Walton. This season when that same double comes Kobe can pass to Pau Gasol (or earlier Andrew Bynum), Derek Fisher and a rejuvenated shooter in Radmanovic. Basically, now Kobe can pass to players he can trust. Bottom line, Kobe is all about winning, and when he looked at his options last year he often thought “my shot over the double team is the best option” and this year that is not the case. Sure, Kobe’s drive and ego fuel part of that, but he wasn’t totally wrong.

Today, threre is a must read piece at SportshubLA by David Neiman that is a fantastic review of Kobe’s journey to the precipice of the MVP, including a few words for to those newpspaer columnists saying “Kobe should get the MVP because he is finally making his teammates better.”

Earlier in the year, I argued that the entire notion of “making one’s teammates better,” at least as far as it’s commonly meant, is nonsense, the NBA equivalent to giving an NFL quarterback too much of the credit or blame for winning or losing. Yes, Kobe’s teammates are better, but it’s not because he’s suddenly passing them the ball where he wasn’t before. A season ago, he gave them the ball plenty.

They’re better because for the first time, they’re matching his effort.

They’re better because Sasha Vujacic is making open threes where he missed them all last year. They’re better because Jordan Farmar isn’t a rookie, is stronger, and has a much better sense of the pro game. They’re better because Derek Fisher is giving Los Angeles and Kobe trustworthy veteran leadership. They’re better because Lamar Odom is healthy and thriving, now that he’s free of the pressure of being the second scoring option. They’re better because Andrew Bynum is a freak of nature. And they’re better because, in what I refer to as the Immaculate Transaction, they somehow picked up Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies for nothing.

Go read the whole thing, it’s a must

The Heat Coming In: The move East has improved Shawn Marion’s game. His true shooting percentage (which counts three pointers and free throws) is 5.2% higher than it was in Phoenix. He’s also is handling a percentage of the offense than he did as a Sun, but with that has come a few more turnovers.

All of that didn’t amount to a win for eight games, until Tuesday night when the Heat beat Sacramento.

Last Time These Two Met: It was the first game for Marion in a Heat uniform and he added some energy to their attack, he had a team best 21 points on 6 of 13 shooting. But the Lakers led by 17 in the second half, tried to give it back and held on for a 104-94 win.

Big note: No Haslem in that game.

Keys To The Game: Haslem will be there tonight and he brings a lot of energy to their front line, something the Odom and the Lakers will have to match. And Lamar, Haslem can hit the 18-footer and is maybe Wade’s favorite target when the defense collapses on the drive — you can’t leave him. Let the other bigs challenge Wade in the paint, you make sure Haslem is covered and doesn’t crash the boards hard.

As we remember from the last time these two met — the new-look Heat want to get out and run. Transition defense will be big, there are some guys who can really finish (Wade, Marion) if you don’t get back in numbers. And that includes Pau (and Ronny) running with Blount, who had 22 and got a number of those by outrunning our bigs last time.

Also in defense, the Lakers need to be ready for a lot of pick-and-roll, Wade and Marion did a lot of damage with that in the first meeting (Marion setting the pick and sliding off to an open spot) and the Lakers need to limit that.

Two areas we should get some good production tonight. First, Blount is not a very good defender, so Gasol (or maybe Odom, if they try Haslem on Pau in spots) should be able to get theirs against him. Second, our second unit. The Lakers have a lot more depth of talent than the Heat, when the second units are out the Lakers should pull away.

You want a prediction? For every insightful thing Charles Barkley says tonight he will annoy me five times.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm (Pacific) and we will all be watching on TNT. Well, since it’s on TNT there’s a good chance we’ll miss half the first quarter so we can see just what a brilliant move that Jason Kidd trade was. (Reread that last sentence in a sarcastic voice.)