Since the moment the Lakers traded Shaq to the Heat following the 2004 season, whenever you saw Miami vs. Los Angeles on the schedule it was appointment viewing. Even in those early days where the Lakers were bad and the Heat were one of the best in the league, I wanted to see prime Kobe battle against Shaq and Wade. When the tables turned and the Lakers became the elite team and the Heat faltered, I still wanted to see Kobe and Pau and Odom take on Wade’s crew. And then, of course, when the Heat were able to sign LeBron and Bosh, any Lakers/Heat game that wasn’t on national television was probably a scheduling error.
While some of the names remain — Kobe, Wade, Bosh — and new ones have joined, those days where this game would be featured on the marquee are long gone. The Lakers are, as you well know, one of the worst teams in the league, currently boasting a bottom four record in the association. The Heat, meanwhile, are now without LeBron and have fallen to the 7th seed in the East with a 16-21 record. They are only two games up from the 9th seeded Pacers and really have been inconsistent as they adjust to life without the “king”.
What this leaves us with, really, is just another game on a Tuesday. Yes, Kobe may play after participating in practice yesterday. And, yes, the Heat will bring Wade and Bosh (and Luol Deng) on their end. But, ultimately, this isn’t really a game to get excited about anymore and, really, is more interesting for how it affects the standings (in terms of the Lakers keeping their pick and the Heat trying to make the playoffs) than anything else — even at this early-ish stage of the season.
In saying all that, however, both teams will come out and compete tonight and will, tactically, try to play to their strengths to win the game. For the Heat, this will mean working the ball through Wade and Bosh while looking for Deng and some of the other role players to get their respective games going. One player to watch is big man Hassan Whiteside, Miami’s reserve center. The big man has been playing well lately, include a fantastic performance against the Clippers’ renowned frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Whiteside put up 23 points with 16 rebounds and 2 blocks in only 29 minutes in helping the Heat beat the Clippers on Sunday.
The Lakers’ bigs, then, have a fair amount of responsibility this game. Not just because of a reserve Center who played well two days ago, but because the Heat, though now without LeBron, will still try to stretch the Lakers out by moving Bosh all over the court and then attacking the vacated lane via penetration and quick cuts. This will put pressure on Hill, Davis, Boozer, and Tarik Black to have good awareness and position themselves accordingly in order to not give up easy looks every time down the floor.
Offensively, the Lakers must find ways to threaten and control the paint. Whether this is via penetration from the guards, pick and rolls with the big men diving, or working the offensive glass hard the team must find ways to get baskets inside and then work to the perimeter after. Relying on Jordan Hill or Kobe (should he play) long two point jumpers will let the Heat off the hook and allow them to pressure the perimeter and put a stranglehold on the offense. No, the Lakers must fight the urge to settle and instead work the ball, deliberately, into the paint to either score or collapse the defense enough to open up the perimeter to make those shots less stressful.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.