Lakers vs. Heat: Breaking Down 2 Super-Teams as Regular Season Nears
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The teams two matchups ahead of the postseason—we can all agree they'll both make the playoffs, right?—are so eagerly anticipated, the rest of the year is almost rendered anticlimactic.
Offseason moves have certainly contributed to this anticipation, but how do the two teams measure up across the roster?
Let's find out.
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Mario Chalmers is pretty confident in his abilities, that's for sure. When speaking to Bleacher Report's Peter Emerick, Chalmers maintained that he was at “the front end” of the top 10 point guards in the NBA, but the way his team was always shouting at him didn't indicate that his opinion was shared.
Chalmers had a fantastic Game 4 against the Thunder, where his confidence translated to results, but overall he isn't as good as he thinks he is.
He has had national success at every level of competition, so it's unsurprising that he's so high on himself, but sometimes he looks out of step with the sheer variation in the Heat offense, which requires him to fulfill many roles under the same banner.
Being out of step with the offense isn't an accusation you can throw at Steve Nash. Yes, his age doesn't allow for the same pace as Chalmers, but there's not many players who can provide at the same level as Nash.
Nash was a huge acquisition for the Lakers and gives them the opportunity to dominate every game in the Western Conference. Chalmers is young and will no doubt get better, but Nash is a few steps ahead of him, and rightly so.
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Bryant is renowned as a guy who loves to take control of the game by keeping the ball in his hands, so it'll be interesting to see how he approaches the season with Nash in the ranks.
There is a mutual respect between the two players that should ensure a harmonious partnership, and Bryant should no longer feel like he has to make something happen for himself every play. This should ensure that his shooting efficiency improves on last year.
Wade, however, had problems just remaining on the court last season. Any concerns about his return from the knee injury that kept him sidelined will have been laid to rest, as he dominated the court against the Indiana Pacers in the preseason.
Wade came away from that contest with 21 points, and across the 23 minutes he was on the court he showed that his pace had returned to him.
He will be anxious to challenge Bryant for the title of No.1 shooting guard in the NBA. It promises to be one of 2013's most interesting battles.
Bryant not doing enough to create for his teammates is admittedly a tired argument, but Wade’s advantage in this area gives him the edge.
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Metta World Peace against LeBron James isn’t going to end well. Yes, the player formerly known as Ron Artest has got some defensive chops—and elbows—but there isn’t going to be much he can do when he encounters James.
James contributes all over the court, and as we saw last year, is now capable of putting the team on his back and carrying them through the anxious parts of the postseason. The people screaming “choke” might have to wait a little longer to see it happen again.
Not since 2005 has World Peace put up better numbers than LeBron when the two players faced each other. Since he went to L.A., World Peace’s best has been 17 points against James, which was in the Lakers’ victory in March last season.
When guarding James, World Peace was able to keep him down to eight points on 4-for-13 shooting. In his post-game interview, the Lakers player proclaimed himself “one of the greatest defensive players ever” (via SportingNews.com).
Although he clearly thinks he has the better of this matchup, it’s difficult to see a scenario where the Lakers would take World Peace over James. Miami has him—at least until 2014, anyway—and that gives them the advantage.
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Moving Chris Bosh to center means that it’s Shane Battier who becomes the starting power forward for the Heat, and he’ll now face Pau Gasol at least twice a year.
The Heat will be playing small ball, using Battier to free up room for Wade and James, but he gives up a lot of size to Gasol. Gasol is one of the most versatile seven-footers in the game, and in the Lakers new Princeton offense he should thrive.
Gasol’s passing ability immediately makes the team-first principles of the Princeton offense better. When speaking to Mark Medina at the L.A. Times, Gasol was understandably enthusiastic about the new system:
It will be a matter of being aggressive. The offense is about reads and movement. If you're aggressive and make yourself available, you're going to have options.
It's going to be a lot of looks with the movement and the quality of the players that will be out there. That attracts a lot of attention. We'll have opportunities regardless, no matter what... No player is worried about that, even though we have players who have the ability to score easily.
It couldn’t be a better fit for Gasol, which means an immediate upgrade on his performances from last year. Another round to the Lakers here.
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Chris Bosh has moved to center, and as stated earlier, will aim to create space for James and Wade in the paint. This will be especially beneficial to him as he goes up against Dwight Howard, who will otherwise present a huge headache for Bosh throughout the game.
There’s not much too say about Howard that hasn’t already been said. He’s a supremely gifted athlete who has an advantage over Bosh in almost every manner. Even if Bosh manages to get him away from the rim, he still has to keep him there, which could end up being his undoing.
Howard is bigger and much stronger, which will be to his advantage as he looks to attack the basket, and also gives him the edge when going up for rebounds.
Miami has to ensure that Bosh isn’t left alone to shut down Howard, which would be disastrous. To his credit, Bosh isn’t concerned:
If teams feel like they have an advantage, tell them to dump it down there if they can. That’s my answer to everything. If they say, ‘Bosh can’t play the five. We have an advantage,’ and people think that, then tell them to dump it down there and we’ll see what happens. (Via The Miami Herald)
Bosh is one of the most important players in Spoelstra’s position-less system, and having his pace at center is a huge asset. He’s not a banger and never will be, but the system doesn’t require this of him.
This matchup will be more interesting than it looks on paper, but Howard still takes it due to his freakish athleticism and dominance at the rim.
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Ray Allen and Antawn Jamison have the task of keeping the scoreboard moving when the starters catch their breath off court, so both have huge roles to play this year.
If Allen is simply being asked to catch and shoot—and if he can stay healthy—then he’ll put up good numbers. This is despite his poor stats in preseason, which he put down to getting a read on his new teammates, Wade in particular:
One time when [Wade] went to the basket, he made a late pass. He makes late passes. He jumps up and he’ll fling it to you, so I’ve got to know where to be and make sure I keep myself available to him. Small little things like that. That, when I played against him, you don’t think about it. But when you’re on the same team as him, you’ve got to make sure you always give an outlet. (Via The Palm Beach Post).
This will undoubtedly come more naturally in time, but looking at both teams, it’s Jamison who brings more to the court. He put up 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year—over 33.1 minutes— and is better at creating a shot for himself.
Allen’s injury troubles that led to the disintegration of his shot in the playoffs—39.5 percent on field goals and 30.4 on threes, both career-worsts in the postseason—adds to doubts about his reliability this year.
At this stage in their respective careers, Jamison has to be the better option.
Conclusion and Prediction
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The Lakers have a 4-2 advantage when looking solely at individual positions, but that doesn’t take into account the countless intangible factors that emerge when teams play.
Coaching, team chemistry, style of play, injuries to starters, injuries to the bench, team records going into the matchup; all of these things affect every game in different ways.
As much fun as it is to break down each position and come away saying “Lakers have this sewn up, look at the player comparisons,” it’s not a true representative of the way the game works.
The Heat will have the better team chemistry and familiarity with their offense, while the Lakers have new players and a new system to absorb before the start of the season. This has the potential to affect their early games and prevent them from getting into a rhythm.
They don’t play the Heat until January, so there should be enough time to get the system working well, but there is no room for error against the Heat, who will be playing to defend their crown.
If forced to make a decision, I’d say they split the victories in the regular season. If it is to become the fixture for the NBA Finals—and if they make it with chemistry intact and all players healthy—I’m going with the Lakers.
If there is any discontent on or off the court, that prediction changes to favor the Heat.