Records: Lakers 22-3, Heat 18-6
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.6 (4th), Heat 110.0 (10th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (3rd), Heat 104.5 (10th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Heat: Kendrick Nunn, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Bam Adebayo, Meyers Leonard
Injuries: Lakers: Kyle Kuzma (questionable), Rajon Rondo (questionable); Heat: Goran Dragic (out), Justise Winslow (out), Dion Waiters (out), Tyler Herro (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: The won their 1st game of their 5 game road trip on Wednesday, taking down the Orlando Magic in a game that walked a familiar line with a couple of twists. Rather than show indifference early and rally late to win, the Lakers were staunch early, allowed a massive comeback in the middle, and retook control late for the win. The finish line was at the same spot, but the route was changed some.
Still, the Lakers continue to win. The Magic represented the Lakers 5th straight win and 12th straight road victim. The Lakers are getting good at winning in other people’s houses, a Rick James on Eddie Murphy’s couch sort of invitee. The team is now 22-3 overall, but right in the middle of where the opponents will jump in quality. Over the next slate of games the Lakers opponents include the Heat, Bucks, Nuggets, and Clippers. I think we know the Lakers are a high quality team themselves, but if a few losses come in this stretch do not be surprised.
On the injury front, both Kuzma and Rondo are questionable after missing the game in Orlando. I would not be surprised if both continued to sit as they get back to 100%. There are many benefits to the Lakers starting out 22-3, but one of them is that injury concerns can be handled cautiously rather than with urgency to return. If the Lakers drop a game here or there because their depth is compromised by taking it slow with players coming back from injury, so be it.
The Heat coming in: Miami is good, ya’ll. They’ve won 3 in a row and 6 of their last 7 games. The level of opponent has not been through the roof, but wins all count the same and this team has racked them up to currently be slotted 2nd in the eastern conference.
The Heat are banged up, however. Tyler Herro is listed as questionable with a stomach bug, but he’s going to give it a go and play tonight. Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, however, are both out. Dion Waiters is also out, not due to injury, but because he and the front office are not on the same page about a variety of things. If the Heat could trade him, they would, but that’s another story for another day.
Even with guys out, though, the Heat play hard and find ways to win games — particularly by playing well down the stretch. In this way, they’re similar to the Lakers. They have a mental and physical toughness that means you have to play through the final buzzer in order to beat them. The Lakers would be wise to remember that tonight.
Keys to the game: I’m going to keep this short and sweet. The Heat are tough and talented. The Lakers are tough and…more talented. If the Lakers play to their talent level while playing hard, they’ll be in very good position to win this game. If they relax or if LeBron and/or AD play poorly, they’ll lose. It’s honestly that simple from my vantage point.
From a matchup stand point, Jimmy vs. LeBron and Bam vs. AD will be worth the price of admission. I expect these four to all find possessions going against each other on both sides of the ball and when they do fireworks could happen.
Jimmy is one of the better two way players in the league. LeBron can neutralize Jimmy’s strength, but the same might be true going the other way too — particularly when you consider how hard Jimmy competes defensively. If LeBron can keep Jimmy from scoring in the post while contesting his jumper well enough to force misses from distance, it will go a long way towards winning this game.
As for AD and Bam, the latter is one of the better defensive big men in league when it comes to being able to capably defend from the three point line to the rim. Bam has great feet, but is also strong as an ox so beating him off the dribble or just trying to go through him on the block will be difficult. AD will need to be deep in his bag offensively this game, using his superior length to finish over the top but using all his other skills to get him in good position to do so. If AD can get his jumper to fall, it will go a long way towards building out a plan to score effectively at all 3 levels.
On the other side of the floor, AD needs to pressure Bam when he has the ball to take away some of his comfort level as a passer. The Heat love to use Bam as a Draymond-esque initiator, handling the ball at the top of the key and on the low block where he can pick out cutters coming off various screen actions. If you give Bam too much space, he can carve you up as an assist man. He’s the rare type of big who will pass you open, leading you to easy shots as he fires the ball into space. The Lakers team defense will need to be sharp and extra communicative in order to slow some of these actions down.
As I said at the top, this is a game where the top priority is playing hard. The Lakers are a smart and seasoned enough team that if they’re going hard, the rest will figure itself out. But they must match the Heat’s effort and then leverage some of their secondary lineups when AD/LeBron are staggered to win those minutes when both teams are playing bench heavy units. If these things go the Lakers way, they’ll have a really good chance of keeping those aforementioned win streaks going.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.
*All stats via stats.nba.com