How New-Look L.A. Lakers Can Exploit Miami Heat's Lack of Size
Ranking 21st out of 30 teams in rebounding last season, the Heat are at a shortage when it comes to overall height and talent in the post.
With natural power forward Chris Bosh logging the majority of minutes at center in last year's playoffs, the Heat have yet to find a true answer to the position since assembling the Big Three in the summer of 2010.
While Miami still managed to get by using this undersized lineup against the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year's Finals, it could be a different story should they meet up with the new-look Los Angeles Lakers.
Even before acquiring Dwight Howard this summer, the Lakers were stacked in the paint in both size and overall skill.
Adding Howard will only add to the Lakers exploitation of the Heat's small roster, something we could very well see in the 2012-2013 NBA Finals.
Here are some ways L.A. has the advantage over Miami in the paint, starting with both team's projected starting lineups.
Miami Heat Projected Lineup
Projected Heat starters with heights include:
Point Guard: Mario Chalmers, 6'2"
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade, 6'4"
Small Forward: Shane Battier, 6'8"
Power Forward: LeBron James, 6'8"
Center: Chris Bosh, 6'11"
While Miami has primarily played Bosh at his natural power forward, he should now move to the starting center spot due to his strong play at the position during last year's playoffs.
This also means that either Battier or James will get the bulk of the minutes at power forward, with James being the likely candidate due to his superior strength.
While James and Bosh are both extremely talented, both are playing out of position to help combat the Heat's lack of a true center and are thus sacrificing valuable size.
Los Angeles Lakers Projected Lineup
Projected Lakers starters with heights include:
Point Guard: Steve Nash, 6'3"
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant, 6'6"
Small Forward: Metta World Peace, 6'8"
Power Forward: Pau Gasol, 7'0"
Center: Dwight Howard, 6'11"
The Lakers boast the rare ability of having two players in their starting lineup both perfectly capable of playing center.
While Howard is the game's best center, Gasol stepped in many times for the Lakers during Andrew Bynum's injuries and has the size and offensive skills to play either post position at an All-Star level.
Overall, the Lakers have a combined seven inches in height advantage in their starting lineup over the Heat, including four at the power forward position alone.
Dwight Howard vs. Chris Bosh
Dwight Howard is the key to the Lakers' exploitation of the Heat, as his size and skill set is nearly unguardable for even the best NBA centers.
For the Heat, containing Howard lately has been a struggle.
In four games against Miami last season, Howard averaged nearly 20 points and a whopping 19 rebounds per game, twice recording 24 rebounds or more.
While Chris Bosh is a fine offensive player in the post, he gives up nearly 30 pounds of muscle in a matchup against Howard and thus struggles against him defensively.
Despite being 6'11", Bosh isn't much of a shot-blocker at all, only averaging 0.8 per game last season and 1.1 for his career.
As a comparison, Howard collected over twice that amount last season with 2.1 blocks a contest and has a career mark of 2.2 per.
Bosh and Howard may be the same height, but Howard's bigger frame, increased rebounding and superior shot-blocking make this matchup a mismatch for the Heat.
Dwight Howard vs. the Heat Bench
While we've seen Bosh struggle against Howard, the rest of the Heat bench won't fare much better.
Behind Bosh, Miami has Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman available at center.
To put it nicely, these three are the reason Bosh has been forced to play center.
Anthony and Haslem are severely undersized when it comes to guarding Howard's 6'11", 265-pound frame. Anthony is listed at a mere 6'9" and 245 pounds (via ESPN) while Haslem is 6'8" and 235 pounds and a natural power forward.
Pittman certainly has the frame (6'11", 285 pounds) to contain Howard, but only saw the court an average of 8.6 minutes per game last season, which should say a lot given the Heat's center situation.
None of these three players have any better chance of containing Howard than Bosh, and none have the repertoire Bosh has to compete on the offensive end.
If Bosh succumbs to foul trouble and the Heat are forced to use one of their bench trio against Howard, things could get ugly fast.
Pau Gasol vs. LeBron James
Pau Gasol represents part two of L.A.'s twin towers, and is actually an inch taller than Howard at center.
Given the team's projected starting lineups, this would likely mean that LeBron James would be given the assignment of guarding Gasol.
While the weight difference is pretty much a wash, Gasol is a full four inches taller than LeBron, something he could greatly use to his advantage in the post.
While James is a terrific defender who's shown the capability to guard multiple positions, Gasol would prove to be a very difficult matchup for him based on size alone.
On the other side of the ball, LeBron at power forward may struggle against a paint filled with Howard and Gasol as well.
According to 82games.com, James scored only 12.4 of his 27.1 points per game from outside of the paint. All other baskets came off dunks, layups, tip-ins, free throws and close shots.
This means that nearly 55 percent of LeBron's baskets come off his production in the paint.
Now matched up with someone nearly four inches taller and with Dwight Howard available to back up, James will be forced to shoot more from the outside where his effective field-goal percentage was only .479 compared to .719 on all inside shots.
James is an elite defender and overall player, but trying to guard Gasol and score against Pau and Howard in the paint will give even LeBron a difficult challenge.
Pau Gasol vs. the Heat Bench
Again we visit the Heat bench, this time with an emphasis on the backup power forward position.
With James getting a rest, the Heat would have Shane Battier, Joel Anthony and Rashard Lewis to help guard Gasol assuming Haslem is the first big off the bench to play center.
Here is a quick comparison of how these three would match up with Gasol based on a statistical level:
For the defensive (and offensive) ratings, this shows the expected amount of points each player would allow (or score) per 100 possessions.
Gasol last season was scoring an average of 112 points during this time, while Battier, Anthony and Lewis were all giving up 100 points or more. Not a good sign for Miami.
For TRB%, or total rebound percentage, none can even come close to Gasol in terms of cleaning the glass. While Gasol is grabbing 15.6 percent of all available rebounds, Battier and Lewis are only pulling down 14.6 percent, combined.
Gasol is also contributing on average over eight wins per year alone to the Lakers, while Battier, Anthony and Lewis together are providing the Heat with only seven.
It's safe to say that Gasol would have his way with any member of the Heat bench.
Improved Lakers Bench and Conclusion
The Lakers made some nice improvements to their bench in the offseason, bringing in veteran Antawn Jamison and re-signing center Jordan Hill to a two-year deal. They also picked up 6'10" forward Earl Clark in the Dwight Howard trade.
Lacking the stretch power forward they had in Lamar Odom last season, the Lakers now can use Jamison at either forward position as a spot-up shooter and scorer off the bench.
Hill can play either power forward or center with his 6'10", 235-pound frame. Coming over last season from the Houston Rockets in the Derek Fisher trade, Hill put up impressive averages of 14.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes of play.
Having Jamison, Hill, Howard and Gasol in a power forward-center rotation allows them to be very creative and extremely talented in whatever they choose to do.
Bosh and James are great players, but both are very undersized when matching up with the Lakers bigs. Haslem and Battier are nice role players, but any production out of Anthony or Pittman will be very surprising.
L.A. has a huge advantage on the Heat in terms of both size and skill in the paint, and are more talented when both teams are forced to go to their bench.
If indeed the Lakers and Heat do meet in the NBA Finals, expect the Lakers to fully attack and exploit the Heat's lack of size.