The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers are both coming off huge wins on Friday night, but they will only get a 24-hour reprieve to pat themselves on the back before their nationally broadcast clash on Sunday.
Miami, playing without a sick Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, went on a destructive warpath against the Los Angeles Clippers, despite Chris Paul's return to the lineup. LeBron James dropped 30 points (on 9-of-11 shooting), six assists and five rebounds while sitting out the fourth quarter in the Heat's 111-89 victory.
For James, Friday night's victory continued one of the more impressive stretches of his storied career. Over the past four games, James has shot 43-of-59 from the field (72.8 percent) and raised his season average to 56.0 percent. It's an astounding feat that has seen James continue to emphasize his development down low.
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has been changing his game a bit of late as well. Taking on more of a facilitator role, Bryant has led the Lakers to victories in seven of their last nine games, including a huge comeback against the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday. Down as many as 20 points, the Lakers made a torrid comeback in the third and fourth quarters to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
Can the Lakers use that comeback to improve their paltry 9-17 road record against Miami on Sunday? Let's find out.
Here is a complete breakdown of Sunday's game, including a look at the key matchups, storylines and predictions for the contest.
Start Time: Sunday, Feb. 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla.
TV Info: ABC
Live Stream: NBA League Pass (Audio only, paid subscription required)
Lakers Injury Report (Via CBS Sports)
J.A. Adande @jadande
Lakers say Pau Gasol will be out 6-8 weeks with torn plantar fascia in right foot.2013-2-7 23:51:00
Jordan Hill, hip, out for Season.
Heat Injury Report (Via CBS Sports)
Chris Bosh and Ray Allen are both questionable for Sunday due to the flu.
Brian Windhorst @WindhorstESPN
Chris Bosh (flu) & Ray Allen (flu) out for Heat tonight. Dwyane Wade (flu) will start.2013-2-8 23:18:54
Key Storyline: Was Lakers' Comeback vs. Charlotte a Sign of Life?
They're the Bobcats. That's the assessment you'll get from just about anyone who is getting some sort of schadenfreudian pleasure out of the Lakers' (and, by proxy, their fans') misery.
And to a certain extent, those people are right. The Lakers do not deserve a slow clap for beating a Charlotte team that has won four of its past 37 games. Sure, it was a little impressive to see the Lakers battle back from being down 20 points with 5:26 remaining in the fourth quarter, but there is no conceivable reason for them to have been losing by that much in the first place.
It's ultimately a meaningless win against probably the worst team in the NBA, but the opposite result had the opportunity to be catastrophic. Had the Lakers not mounted that comeback, they would have been staring at a new rock bottom for a team that had already dug its way to the earth's outer core.
Momentum from game to game has always been an amusing concept, just as it is in most other sports. The Lakers aren't more likely to win against the Heat because they beat the Bobcats. But if they would have lost, with rift rumors once again swirling around Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, then you may as well have gotten your popcorn ready for an old-school evisceration on Sunday.
It's funny how those things work. The Lakers showed fight and played the last 17-and-a-half minutes against Charlotte plus-27 to come away victorious. It was arguably their most impressive comeback of the season, in a time where, as Bryant put it, they "need some urgency."
They showed that urgency against Charlotte in the third and fourth quarters. We'll just have to see whether that translates versus an actual NBA team.
Key Matchup: Kobe Bryant vs. Dwyane Wade
While the matchup of LeBron James versus Earl Clark/Metta World Peace will have a ton of intrigue when Miami is on offense, it will instantly turn into an episode of Maude when the game's best player takes his talents to the defensive side against these non-entities from long-range.
So that (unfortunately) rules out talking about how James will play on Sunday, leaving us with a rather obvious choice in the "best matchup" category.
Despite the ascent of James Harden, Bryant and Wade remain the two best shooting guards in the NBA. They have both continually evolved their games to get better, and Bryant especially of late has done his best to take on heavy distributing role.
Over the Lakers' strong nine-game run, Kobe has averaged 18.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game while taking 5.6 shots fewer per contest than his full season numbers. Will that continue against Miami on Sunday? That's probably doubtful, but maybe it should.
In the Big Three era for Miami, it's hard to have any concrete takeaways for the effect Wade and Bryant have against on one another. The two sides play just twice per season, not exactly what you would call a significant sample size, and Wade missed one game in 2011-12.
However, if we can draw any (minor) inferences we can draw from the data, it's that both Bryant and Wade perform worse than their regular-season averages when facing off.
Just for reference, take a look at these comparative charts. They juxtapose how Wade and Bryant do against one another versus their season-long averages (per 36 minutes), keeping in mind the limited sample size.
Wade (data via NBA.com)
|2010-11 vs. Bryant||18.5||39%||19.0||4.4||5.4||3.4|
|2010-11 Regular Season||24.8||50%||17.6||6.2||4.4||8.3|
|2011-12 vs. Bryant||13.3||36%||18.7||4.0||5.3||0.0|
|2011-12 Regular Season||24.9||50%||18.5||5.3||5.0||6.6|
|2012-13 vs. Bryant||25.7||58%||19.5||4.1||5.1||5.1|
|2012-13 Regular Season||22.1||50%||16.5||5.1||5.0||6.8|
Kobe (data via NBA.com)
|2010-11 vs. Wade||19.9||36%||17.5||3.4||4.4||4.9|
|2010-11 Regular Season||26.9||45%||21.2||5.4||5.0||7.6|
|2011-12 vs. Wade||21.3||46%||17.3||4.0||1.3||6.7|
|2011-12 Regular Season||26.1||43%||21.5||5.0||4.3||7.3|
|2012-13 vs. Wade||22.6||42%||19.5||4.1||0.0||2.1|
|2012-13 Regular Season||25.6||46%||19.6||5.1||5.0||6.8|
As the data shows, other than Wade's brilliant performance on Jan. 17, these two perform markedly worse when matched up in almost every statistical category. Now, they're not always guarding each other every time down the floor, so perhaps this says more about the Lakers' and Heat's defensive schemes than anything.
Nevertheless, it's certainly worth noting, even in a small sample size, just how much the data swings. Wade took the Lakers defense to task in the teams' first meeting. Will it be Bryant's turn on Sunday?
That remains to be seen. But with Howard ailing, Pau Gasol on the injury report and Steve Nash just being, well, average, it's unlikely that the Lakers can survive another Bryant downfall against Miami.
Projected Starting Lineups and Key Reserves
Lakers Starting Lineup
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Metta World Peace
PF: Earl Clark
C: Dwight Howard
Lakers Key Reserves
PG: Steve Blake
SG: Jodie Meeks
PF: Antawn Jamison
Heat Starting Lineup
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
Heat Key Reserves
PG: Norris Cole
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Shane Battier
As they showed against the Clippers on Friday, there is no NBA team, save for possibly the Oklahoma City Thunder, that can compete with the Heat when they're at the top of their game. Miami mopped the floor with one of the Western Conference's best teams, a Clippers squad that made it an emphasis to be back at full strength for that game.
Meanwhile, the Heat played without Bosh and Allen and made the victory look easy.
Based simply on the "never count out Kobe" principle, I predict that the Lakers will avoid embarrassing themselves on national television. But picking against Miami is fool's gold at home, especially against a team that could barely beat the lowly Bobcats.
Anything is possible in a one-game NBA sample size, but the Heat are far more likely to walk away victorious on Sunday.
Final Score Prediction: Heat 99, Lakers 92