So that's it then. The L.A. Lakers trade for Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic and the NBA world, so critical of the Miami Heat's "Big Three" and what it meant for parity in the NBA, appears to be completely on board with it.
One ESPN columnist, Arash Markazi, has already gone so far as to proclaim the Lakers "the favorites to win the NBA title" after the deal and even went so far as to mock the Heat in the process of proclaiming the Lakers greatness before a game has even been played.
"Yes, that's right, Miami, there is a new challenger to your throne," he wrote, "and this team has a 'Big Four' to trump your 'Big Three.'" He says apparently forgetting that only one of those Big Threes are in their primes and boast the best player on the planet.
But, even after the media has spent the days since the trade announcing that the Lakers will apparently dismantle all comers next year, including Miami, I find myself strangely unconvinced. Here are five reasons why I still like the Heat to beat this Lakers team, if the Lakers somehow made it to the finals.
1. Speed beats size
Size. Size. Size. That's 90 percent of the NBA analyst's argument favoring this Lakers roster over the Heat.
This argument in favor of the Lakers and against the Heat has been repeated so often fans are starting to believe that size may be the only thing that matters. Well, it's not.
In fact, I would say that if any team can handle the Lakers' frontline, it would be the Heat. Miami's trapping of the post has shown in the the past to give problems to both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
The fronting of the post (which they can do with Joel Anthony) will force Howard out of the paint further than he wants, taking time off the shot-clock and either giving the Heat's defense an opportunity to help out or getting the ball out of his hands for a lower percentage shot for the Lakers shooters.
The Heat's speed is the answer to the Lakers' size. Can the bigs out-quick the lightning-fast defensive rotations of the Heat? My guess right now would be no. Especially since this would be the Lakers' first time playing together with this lineup.
2. Dwight Howard foul trouble
This is another issue that Lakers fans may want to contemplate before cementing those championship parade plans for next year.
Some have made it sound so simple. The Lakers' unspectacular perimeter defense won't suffer because Dwight Howard will be standing in the paint ready to pounce and block shots at the rim.
I would like to ask these people to watch the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009, where Howard stayed in foul trouble the entire series. I know that his team won the series, but the point is: Even when healthy, playing an entire season and acting as his team's main option, Howard collected a lot of fouls.
Now I'm supposed to believe that upon his return to the Lakers lineup in January (a team he's never played with previously in a regulation game), he's going to have perfect timing to block the Heat's shots, not collect many fouls, protect the paint with Pau Gasol right there, come out and contest the perimeter shot of Chris Bosh without giving up the baseline to James or Wade and anchor the defense of a team whose tendencies he has yet to learn?
Defense is a team concept. It's about timing, protection and knowledge that if you are beaten by the offensive player, you have someone who can pick up that player near the basket. You don't develop that type of chemistry on defense in a month or two, especially with a team of players like Steve Nash and Antwan Jamison, whose defense has always been poor.
If Nash gets beat off the dribble by Russell Westbrook or Dwyane Wade, will he have the quickness and timing to protect the rim after months of not playing? My guest would be a resounding "no" in the interim.
3. The Heat have an answer for Steve Nash
Here is one scenario that has rarely been discussed: Is Steve Nash going to be the player responsible for running the Lakers' offense? In other words, will the majority of the Lakers' offensive sets go through Steve Nash?
If so, I think the Heat have an answer. First of all, Nash's pet play is the pick-and-roll. It is a play that can be devastating against a team of slower players who do not know whether to hard show it or to trap it.
The Heat defend the pick-and-roll better than any team in the NBA by a wide margin. They have the quickness to trap it and turn it into a rather ineffective play, as James Harden discovered in the NBA Finals. Additionally, if the Lakers are going to rely on Nash to make plays for them, what's to stop the Heat from putting LeBron James on Nash to pressure his passing game and force him into difficult lobs in the post?
As Derrick Rose can attest, even the best point guards find that life is not quite the same with LeBron James on you. Nash, as good as he is still, is not going to be able to blow by James or shoot a contested shot over him. You put a halt to the Lakers' offense by putting your best defensive player on the man running their offense.
This is similar to what the Chicago Bulls' forward Scottie Pippen did to Indiana Pacers point guard Mark Jackson in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. If the Lakers fans are not concerned about this possibility, they need to start considering it. If James neutralizes Nash, who runs the offense? I suppose Kobe would, but his life won't be easy either with Shane Battier covering him.
The point is: Sure, the Lakers' bigs can be effective, but if you stall their offense by playing tough on their playmakers (and there are only two real playmakers on this team), you make it harder for them to get the ball where they want it and can take them out of their rhythm.
Here are five scary words, Lakers fans: "Metta World Peace, primary ball-handler!"
4. The Oklahoma City Thunder are still better than the Lakers
When you look at the matchups, the Thunder match up quite well against the Lakers. As the 2009 and 2010 Eastern Conference Finals bare out, Kendrick Perkins can defend Dwight Howard as well as any player in the NBA.
The Lakers have very little pressure defense on the perimeter, so Westbrook and Kevin Durant are going to feel confident driving to the basket against, admittedly "the best center in the NBA" but also one that will need weeks to develop chemistry and timing within a new system.
The Thunder have been to the finals with its current roster while Kobe has never been to the finals without Phil Jackson and Derrick Fisher. This is a different team, in a different system, with a coach not known for his great offensive game planning. There will be a process to get Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to learn to become the second and third options on this team.
The Thunder, of course, won't have such issues as they have an identity on both ends of the court and are not "just figuring things out" in year one. Add to that the fact that they are younger, faster, quicker, deeper and motivated to return to the Finals, and you have the Lakers, at best, the second best team in the West.
5. The Heat win the coaching edge
Ha! Erik Spoelstra has been the most maligned coach of the last few years. Even Heat fans have criticized his play-calling and match-ups at times. But after leading the team to the title last year, he has accomplished more as a head coach than Mike Brown has.
Brown is not a bad coach, to be sure. He just isn't very imaginative in calling plays and has been terrible in making adjustments when his team trails in a playoff series as his years in Cleveland demonstrated.
Look at the Lakers-Denver series last season as Exhibit A. Brown's adjustments were really slow in coming, and it almost cost his team a 3-1 lead in a series.
Spoelstra, while not perfect, has proven that despite the immense pressure he's played with over the last two years, he can maintain a quiet, calm demeanor on the bench that his players respond to. Given the amount of pressure he was under to win last year, it was amazing how pensive he appeared while trailing 2-1 against the Pacers, 3-2 against the Celtics and 1-0 against the Thunder.
A lot of coaches would have started over-thinking it, nervously reshuffling lineups or putting in new offensive schemes. Spoelstra made it clear that his team needed to step up, made the adjustments he needed to make and trusted his players to execute. That's great coaching if you ask me. His willingness to live in the moment is a trait that a lot of coaches could emulate.
Sure, the games still have to be played, and the Lakers may like up to the hype and emerge as the clear-cut favorites to win the title next spring. But I still think Miami has an excellent chance to repeat.
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