The back-to-back NBA champion Miami Heat and the injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers are two teams heading in opposite directions and they’ll be squaring off in South Beach tonight at 5:00 p.m. on TNT.
Lakers Coming In: The Lakers come in to the game having lost 13 of their last 16 games. That said, they have won two of their last three and lost their last game at Chicago on a last second layup in overtime. The Lakers are 2-2 on their seven-game Grammy road trip and will play their next two games in the state of Florida before closing out the trip at Madison Square Garden.
Injury problems continued for the Lakers, who are already missing Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, and Xavier Henry. Pau Gasol missed practice yesterday and only nine Lakers practiced, which meant they were unable to do 5-on-5 drills.
Gasol didn’t practice today due to what he called an “open wound” on his toe resulting from a tape job he needs, but he’ll start vs. MIA.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 22, 2014
The Lakers are thin, obviously, but it’s impressive how they continue to fight hard despite all the injury problems. Gasol has been incredible in January – averaging 20.4 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Kendall Marshall and Ryan Kelly have both been on a tear, as well. During the road trip, Kelly is a +5.5 per game (highest on the team) and averaging 14.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Marshall, on the other hand, has continued to be an effective distributor – averaging 11.5 assists on the road trip. Miami doesn’t have the strongest back court in the world so expect Marshall to have another field day.
Finally, it seems like the Lakers have found a dependable lineup combination this month. The combination of Gasol-Kelly-Johnson-Meeks-Marshall has been a +19 in 56 minutes this month. It’s the most effective and most used lineup combination for the Lakers in January. What’s interesting is that when the Lakers replace Kelly with Robert Sacre in the same lineup combination, the numbers fall drastically (-43 in 50 minutes in January). This exemplifies Kelly’s strong play throughout the month.
Heat Coming In: The Miami Heat are well on their way to at least another Eastern Conference Final appearance in the weak East. That being said, they’ve lost four of their last seven and are now four games behind the Indiana Pacers for the No. 1 seed in the East.
We won’t see Dwyane Wade tonight as the guard continues to rest.
That last sentence essentially tells us what the Heat really care about – the playoffs. They know that there is no point to play their oft-injured star in a meaningless regular season game when they know they need him healthy for May and June.
This may bode well for the Lakers. The Heat struggle without Wade in the lineup and are only 6-6. With him on the floor, they’re 24-6.
With Wade out, we will see plenty of LeBron and Chris Bosh. James has had another incredible year, averaging 26.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. The “6.7 rebounds” is nice for James, but it’s also glaring for the team as a whole. James is the leading rebounder with just 6.7 rebounds. The Heat are the worst rebounding team in the league, averaging just 36.5 rebounds per game.
Head-to-Head: The Heat have beaten the Lakers in seven of their last eight meetings. These two teams squared off on Christmas Day and the Lakers played the Heat close before succumbing in the last half of the fourth quarter. The Heat shot 51.3 percent from the field in that game and won, 101-95.
Miami also grabbed 43 rebounds in that game – their second highest rebounding total of the season. The Lakers may have Gasol and Jordan Hill on their roster, but they’re actually a pathetic rebounding team as a whole. The team may rank 18th in the league in total rebounding, but they’re dead last in rebound percentage. This means they lose plenty of rebound battles. Hill’s diminishing minutes with the team may have something to do with this, so it’ll be interesting to see how much Mike D’Antoni plays him against a poor rebounding opponent.
If the Lakers want to have a chance in this game, they’re going to have to prevent the Heat from getting easy shots. They shoot an NBA best 64 percent from 0-8 feet. However, they’re just an average mid-range shooting team and with Wade out, the Lakers can stay in the game if they force the Heat to take low percentage shots and clean up the glass when they miss. That’s not an easy task, but it’s possible.
On the other end of the court, the Lakers need to continue to move the ball well. They have an AST% of 65.4 percent in January and that’s a testament to Marshall’s great play. When the Lakers move the ball well, they get good looks from three point land. When they get good looks from three point land, they make a lot of threes. When they make a lot of threes, they win.
Though that sounded like a DIRECTV commercial, it’s true. In wins this season, the Lakers shoot 43 percent from downtown compared to just 33 percent in losses. Three pointers are a big part of the Lakers game and it all starts with solid ball movement.
The Spread: The Heat are 11 point favorites. With Wade out and the Lakers playing motivated basketball, it’s not too farfetched to believe that the Lakers can cover the spread.