The Heat are floundering.
Five consecutive losses, especially of the variety that the Heat have had, can put any team on tilt. Stories like Cry-Gate or deeper examinations of your best players’ clutch performances just make the hole deeper. But this is now the reality for the Heat. When a team is one of the predetermined league powers and labeled a contender both internally by the players and management as well as externally by the national media, this group will be put under a larger microscope.
These current circumstances create added meaning for tomorrow’s match up between the Lakers and the Heat. If one person understands that best, it’s Kobe Bryant. In a blog post by Kevin Ding, Kobe sums up tomorrow’s game quite well:
“It’s a perfect setup for them to get back on track,” Bryant said. “They have no option but to fight, to play their hearts out. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. They’ve lost five games in a row now. They’re looking at this game as a game that’s going to turn things around for them.”
Bryant said he was interested to see the Lakers’ ability to meet that challenge and wanted the team to begin mentally preparing Tuesday night. In the immediate aftermath of the team’s victory over Atlanta, that was the discussion inside the locker room: Miami is up next.
The Lakers lost on Christmas to the Heat, 96-80, but Bryant expected Miami’s turmoil to create greater motivation for the Heat than the Lakers’ revenge angle.
“You have to draw on something else, “Bryant said, “because their intensity level is going to be much higher because of what’s going on.”
However, after reading what Kobe said, I still wonder: what does this game actually mean for both sides?
Personally, I’m not sure.
Yes, it’s a big game. Whether you’re just looking at the talent on the court or dig deeper into any of the storylines leading up the contest, this is a game that all the players want to win and one that the fans have great interest in. I mean, will Miami continue to spiral downward? Can the Lakers continue their hot streak? What will a win do the Heat’s psyche? What if they lose? These questions and many others will be focused on incessantly today, tomorrow, and in the aftermath of the game.
But, in that aftermath I still wonder what this single contest will really mean. Over at the Heat Index, John Krolik penned a great piece on LeBron’s performance in past regular seasons and how they have little correlation to the success his team has experienced in the post season.
Meanwhile, we’re all quite familiar with how single games (or even long stretches of games) can have little impact on what we see from the Lakers in the future. Don’t believe me? Look to last year’s closing stretch before the playoffs. For more evidence, look to two weeks ago today where the Lakers were coming off a win over the Hawks but had lost their previous three games including one to the Cavs. How awful did the team look then? And how do they look now?
The other side is, as mentioned earlier, both teams surely want to win. And for obvious reasons. As Kobe stated, the Heat would love for nothing more than to turn their season around, or at the very least get out from under their rock of being labled losers, at the expense of the world champs. They’ve got real strides to make, not much time to make them, and this game could be the gigantic springboard that gets them moving back in the right direction.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are on a roll and surely want that to continue. Winning 8 games in a row is no time to slow down, but rather a time to push harder. The schedule does not get easier and, if anything, it only gets harder with Dallas waiting on Saturday and a date with Orlando scheduled for Monday. Plus, the revenge angle is real. If you thought fans’ Christmases were ruined by that drubbing the Heat handed out, imagine how the players felt. Or the coaches. Now is the time not only for payback, but for message sending that there is one “team to beat” and they wear the visiting team jerseys.
All that said, I still wonder if this game really carries all that much meaning. Maybe for post-season positioning if (and that’s a big if) both teams make it to the Finals. Maybe from a psychological standpoint. But beyond that,it may be that the biggest winners and losers that come out of this game are the fanbases that support each team. I know I care. You do to. And of course the players do. But down the line will we remember this game more than the Spurs game or the OKC game or any of the other “big” games this team has played or will play this year? I truly don’t know either way. What do you think?