Preview: Heat vs. Lakers

Thanks to Kobe Bryant's renewed commitment on defense, the Lakers (17-21) have been playing their best defense as a team the last 2 games, which coincedentally turned into 2 straight wins. A sign of good things to come for the Lakers? It better.

Despite their improved defense, the Lakers are still 4 games below .500 and 3 full games behind the 8th seed Rockets in the west. And to make things more interesting, the defending champions Miami Heat (25-12) have come to visit and see just how much the purple and gold have figured out their "D".

The Heat are coming off of a 92-75 thumping of the Warriors last night. But Miami are playing their worst basketball of the season losing half of their last 10 games. The Lakers, however, aren't expecting anything less from the Heat than their "A" game. And if they are to defeat the Heat, their defense also better bring the same.

After missing the last 5 games due to a concussion suffered against the Nuggets, Pau Gasol will return tonight but is expected to come off the bench. His presence is indeed a welcome sight for the Lakers, but it remains to be seen if he can play enough minutes to be a factor.

Lebron James became the youngest player to reach the 20,000-point plateau last night. Even if Miami has their "Big 3", James is the one the Lakers need to focus on defensively. It won't be remotely close to being easy since Lebron is averaging 30-points per game the last 6 times he's been at Staples Center against the Lakers.

This is the first of 2 meeting against Miami. These teams won't see each other again until Feb. 10th at the American Airlines Arena. The Lakers have won 4 of the last 5 games at home versus the Heat but are just 2-4 overall since the 2009-2010 season. That's 1-3 since Lebron's "decision" to take his talents to South Beach for those of you counting.

Matchup of the Game

Dwyane Wade vs. Kobe Bryant: Neither coaches would want to have their best scorer defend one another. That is unless Kobe wants to take on the challenge of guarding Lebron. If not, then Bryant will turn his attention to Wade. Kobe can't allow him to be a factor offensively since Lebron will most likely get his tonight. And if he's having an easy time scoring, that means that Metta World Peace is struggling defensively. But judging how well Metta has been playing so consistently well on that end of the floor makes the scenario unlikely. This is going to be an intriguing game!

Keys to the Game

> Defense: Due to their lack of size and true post-players, the Heat are at their best on the run attacking he rim. If the Lakers can force Miami in the halfcourt a lot more than in transition, the Heat are going to struggle trying to defend Dwight Howard and Gasol while making sure Kobe, Steve NashAntawn JamisonChris Duhon and Earl Clark won't get their good looks at the basket.

> Inside-Out Attack: A sound defensive game won't mean much if the Lakers doesn't force their strengths on offense. They've been sharing and moving the ball extremely well the last 2 games, so there's no reason for them to fix something that isn't broken.

> Bench: Make no mistake, the starters for the Lakers will get tested tonight. Expect a close game, so the 2nd unit for the Lakers cannot afford to miss too many open shots or miss too many defensive assignments or this game will go out of hand for L.A. quickly.

Watch Out For

HEAT: Ray Allen: The Lakers or their fans shouldn't need any reminder on how dangerous Allen is on offense. This guy seems to be one of those players bred to play well against the Lakers. Definitely not someone to sag off of or lose sight defensively.

LAKERS: Dwight Howard: He's nearly at 100% and what better team to see how much of his legs back than the defending champs? If D12 is aggressive on offense, the Lakers stand a great chance of taking the victory.

Game Info

Tonight vs. Miami Heat
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
Staples Center
TV: TNT (national)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

HEAT: None.

LAKERS: Steve Blake (abdomen) could return within a week. Jordan Hill (hip) is out. Earl Clark (gastroenteritis) is questionnable.

Preview: Heat vs. Lakers

Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat

When Shaq used to suit up for them, the Miami Heat (10-8) and Lakers (14-3) matchup was like the circus coming into a small town. That was then. This is now.

About the only thing or one that is making the Heat still matter in the NBA these days is Dwayne Wade. The former NBA scoring champ is averaging 26.7 points 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block per game. His point production usually dictates the wins and losses for a team that severely needs an overhaul.

Wade tried to woo Lamar Odom into returning to Miami and rallied for Carlos Boozer over the summer. But, the Heat failed to bring in any significant help for Wade who didn’t make it a secret how much he would love to play for his favorite team in Chicago. Yes, I’m trying to say that this game could be the last we see Wade in a Heat uniform at Staples Center.

But just how important is Wade to his team? When he missed the entire 2007-2008 season, Miami matched the worst record in the NBA at 15-67. They went 43-39 last season when Wade won the scoring title.

So, it’s quite obvious who the Lakers have to concentrate on tonight. Fortunately, they have a couple of guys who can give him fits. Then again, Kobe Bryant has done a great job at defending and scoring against Wade the past few meetings all by himself. I wouldn’t doubt he’ll have the assignment again.

To say the Lakers are on a roll is an understatement. They look to improve their record to 15 wins and 3 losses and build their streak to 8 wins in a row. All this with their bench playing at half speed.

The key for the Lakers is take care of #3 for the Heat. Miami is coming off of a loss against Denver where the Nuggets used a balanced scoring to beat them despite Wade’s double-double. Dwayne’s a superstar but not elite enough to go up against Kobe who will most likely take him in the post. Wade will try to get to the rim if he finds an answer to Kobe’s defense. Otherwise, he’ll be forced to be a perimeter player tonight. Besides, how often is he willing to go to the basket when the Lakers have two seven-footers known to block shots?

The Heat have the 10th best defense (just behind the Lakers) and the seventh worse offense in the NBA (scoring only 96 per game) coming in. They may do well against teams in and below their level, but when it comes to teams that have numerous players who can score they tend to lose. So, I don’t they can do much against the Lakers on defense.

The Lakers and Heat split wins last season, but Miami hasn’t beaten the Lakers at Staples Center since Shaq’s first game back in 2004. That streak will remain alive after tonight’s game.

Tip-off is at 7:30. TV: FoxSports West and ESPN  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN