Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat will travel to the Staples Center to take on the injury-depleted Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas day.

While this game simply does not carry the same cachet without Kobe Bryant, it's still Heat-Lakers, and therefore, it remains must-watch basketball as two of the league's most popular franchises go head to head.

Miami comes into this contest looking to extend its current winning streak to six games, while Los Angeles will try to snap a two-game losing skid.

Let's break this one down.

 

Date: Dec. 25

Time: 5 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

Venue: Staples Center

 

Lakers Injury Report (per ESPN)

Kobe Bryant (tibia): Out

Steve Nash (back): Out

Steve Blake (elbow): Out

Jordan Farmar (hamstring): Cleared to play (per the Lakers' official Twitter account)

 

Heat Injury Report (per ESPN)

No injuries.

 

Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley

Who would have thought that Michael Beasley would be enjoying such a solid season with Miami after being cast off from the Phoenix Suns?

The young forward is averaging 11.3 points per game off the bench while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor, nearly nine percentage points above his career percentage. He has scored in double figures in eight of his 15 appearances.

Beasley had missed seven straight games with a bad hamstring going into the Heat's Monday night matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, but he returned to the tune of 10 points and seven rebounds.

With the Lakers lacking depth right now due to injuries, Beasley could play a pivotal role off the pine for Miami. It will be hard enough for LA to defend the Heat's starting five. If Beasley can come in and provide some pop with guys like Ray Allen and Norris Cole, it could end up being a not-so-merry Christmas for Mike D'Antoni's group.

 

Lakers Player to Watch: Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol has had a bit of a resurgence in December, shooting a respectable 46.9 percent from the floor and simply playing sounder, better fundamental basketball.

Not only that, but he is having fun again, as shown in the hilarious (and awesome) video above.

He will have his chance for a big game against Miami's smallish front line, and a 20 and 10 performance seems like a distinct possibility. After all, Gasol dropped 21 points and 13 rebounds against the big and burly Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 20.

Look for the Lakers to try to establish Gasol in the post early and get him a lot of looks.

Also, although it appears that Farmar will be back for this one, Los Angeles will still spend some time without a true point guard on the floor either way. That's where Pau's fine playmaking skills come into play; he is adept at passing out of the low block and finding cutters from the top of the key.

If LA wants to win this contest, Gasol has to be big.

 

Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Pau Gasol 

Noah Graham/Getty Images

As stated previously, Gasol has to play very well for the Lakers to come away with a victory.

We know LeBron James is going to get his regardless of who is defending him and that Dwyane Wade will have the advantage on whoever is assigned to him, as well. That's why Gasol has to outplay his counterpart, Chris Bosh.

Bosh is having a nice December, averaging 15.9 points on robust 53 percent shooting. He has also had four games when he scored 20 or more points this month. If he does that again on Christmas, you can probably already start gift-wrapping the win for the Heat.

Gasol may very well have to go for 25 points in this contest, and with his ability to maneuver in the post, he can certainly do that.

Still, he will have to adequately defend Bosh on the other end.

This should be a very entertaining matchup.

 

Prediction

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

As fun as the Lakers have been to watch and as much as you root for underdogs like Johnson, Xavier Henry and Jordan Hill to succeed, LA just has too many injuries right now. It is going to be incredibly difficult for this ballclub to withstand the Heat.

We all know how much Miami thrives on forcing turnovers and scoring in transition, and with the Lakers so thin at the point guard position, they could be in for a tough afternoon. Even though Farmar is playing, you have to think that he will be rusty and balky after missing so much time.

That puts pressure on Henry and Nick Young to make careful, precise decisions with the rock, something they are not all that used to due to them both being natural 2-guards.

The only way Los Angeles can win this game is if it takes care of the basketball, Gasol outplays Bosh and if someone like Young comes up big off the pine.

Unlike the Lakers, the Heat are perfectly healthy, and they have a ton of weapons at their disposal, from their star-studded starting lineup to their suddenly deep bench with improving youngsters like Beasley and Cole.

If Bryant were healthy, maybe this would be different. But he's not, and neither is Nash or Blake.

All signs are pointing to a Miami win. The Lakers will put up a valiant effort on national television, but they'll ultimately fall short and the Heat will pull away late.

Heat 106, Lakers 97

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