Breaking Down Where Miami Heat Hold Advantage over L.A. Lakers

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 04:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat drives to the basket past Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 93-83 Laker win at Staples Center on March 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After Chris Bosh acknowledged that the Los Angeles Lakers were now the best team "on paper," former Lakers star and current television analyst James Worthy showed that at least some L.A. fans were taking a sober approach to this season's title race.

He told the Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina that Bosh's Miami Heat are still the team to beat:

I would have to say Miami still has a little edge simply because they won last year. It will be so much easier for them to win again because they know how to do it. With them adding Ray Allen andRashard Lewis, they have tremendous scorers and three-point shooters off the bench. Then they also have the greatest player in the game with LeBron James" id="PESPT008359" class="taxInlineTagLink" href="">LeBron James. I give them the edge because they're defending champions.

Worthy is absolutely correct and Miami's 2010-11 season is the most obvious reason why. As dominant as the club looked a year later, it took some time for its stars and role players alike to develop a rhythm with one another.

That kind of intangibles-jargon gets thrown around a lot, but we've seen it come into play time and time again—you can credit coaching, continuity, familiarity and institutional knowledge as a key factor in the success we've seen from the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics and Mavericks over the last decade or so.

And you can certainly credit those virtues when it comes to what Miami accomplished last season.

Players had learned one another's tendencies, and Erik Spoelstra understood his roster well enough to consistently make prescient adjustments during the playoffs. Another offseason, training camp, and 82 games will make this machine all the more well-oiled and dangerous.

So too will a number of very practical factors, beginning with one Worthy mentioned: the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

In the grand scheme of things, those moves probably won't be as momentous as some might think, but they're important when it comes to the Lakers. With Dwight Howard in the middle (alongside an elite seven-footer in Pau Gasol, no less) teams like the Heat will invariably wind up taking more jump shots than they'd like to.

The added perimeter firepower will come in handy.

Not only will it minimize the defensive impact Howard has on the game; it will give Kobe Bryant plenty to worry about on the defensive end. As if dealing with Dwyane Wade wasn't enough of a headache, now Bryant will also find himself chasing Allen around the court and fighting through screens—exerting effort we'd all like to see saved for the offensive end in an ideal world.

The Heat's shooters (which also include holdovers Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers) will keep L.A.'s perimeter defense plenty busy, demanding a lot from the likes of the 38-year-old Steve Nash, who's never been more than an average defender by any measure.

By keeping those perimeter defenders honest, Miami will also create space for its elite slashers to operate, putting pressure on Howard and Gasol to stop James and Wade with little help.

Lakers fans will quickly remind us that three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard can stop a train in its tracks, but there's little doubt James will put that theory to the test.

He had an anomalously bad season against Orlando last year, but averaged at least 30 points in his season series against the Magic in each of his previous three seasons. In 2010-11, James made 60 percent of his shots in four games against Howard.

D12 may be an amazing defender, but that doesn't mean there's much he can do when the first layer of defense allows either James or Wade a full head of steam to the basket.

But even if Howard can't stop the Heat on the defensive end, at least he'll exploit Miami's lack of legitimate centers on offense, right?

In theory, maybe—especially if there were no such thing as team defense. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, there's just that, and the Heat have an especially good one on account of their length and quickness.

And again, that institutional knowledge will come in handy insofar as Miami's defensive rotations will once again be among the best in the league. Players know where they're supposed to be, and they've had some experience providing help defense when Howard has the ball in the post.

You can label Miami favorites by virtue of the fact they're reigning champions and leave it at that, but there are actually some good reasons to believe they'll have an edge against the Lakers.

Of course, there are reasons to believe the very opposite as well. They're just not as compelling at the moment—not yet, anyway.