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Heat vs. Lakers: Major Storylines for Thursday Night Showdown

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket during a 104-88 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center on January 15, 2013 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)
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Ryan DavenportContributor IJanuary 17, 2013

Prior to the 2012-13 NBA Season, one had to think that, in all likelihood, the most important meeting between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers would take place during Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, things haven't quite gone according to plan.

Sure, the Heat started their title defense strong, and began the season by winning just 12 of 15, and the Lakers boasted a Dream Team-like cast of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and of course Kobe Bryant.

But since then, neither highly-touted team has gone without adversity, though obviously the Lakers' struggles have been much more troubling, as neither Mike Brown nor Mike D'Antoni has been able to solve L.A.'s defensive faults thus far.

 

The Black Mamba

At this point in his career, Bryant is undoubtedly one of the best pure scorers in the game, which is why he leads the league in points per game at age 34. But now that Mike D'Antoni's asked from more of Kobe on the defensive side of the ball, how he balances both against the high-powered Heat offense will say a lot.  

The Lakers can obviously score, but Bryant, a perennial NBA All-Defensive Team selection, might have to compromise some points in order to keep the ball in the opposition's half.

 

Dwayne Wade in Crunch Time

When the Heat lost to Utah earlier this week, Miami's Erik Spoelstra decided that only one of the Big Three were playing well enough to see the floor in the fourth quarter. (via The New York Post)

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra benched Dwyane Wade for the entire fourth quarter of Monday's 104-97 loss to the Jazz in Salt Lake City, while playing Chris Bosh for 40 seconds in the final quarter. Wade, who finished with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting on Monday, had no idea why he was benched.

"Coach makes the calls. I'm just a player," said the former Finals MVP. "I don't know. I just always stay ready."

Yeah, it's the regular season, but Spoelstra has to be sure that he doesn't alienate the team's emotional leader, because Wade certainly won't like being the only member of the three All-Stars not to be on the floor when the game matters most, especially against a big-market team like the Lakers.

 

Which Lakers Will Show Up?

The 2012-13 NBA season has been a tale of two teams for the Lakers, as they've managed to dig themselves quite a hole midway through the season despite having arguably their best roster of this decade.

L.A. can make a statement by taking out the Heat, because a win over the NBA's consensus best team will do wonders for the Lakers' confidence.

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