Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat: How the Lakers Can Win on Christmas Day
Fresh off a seven-game road trip, the Lakers returned home for the holidays and their yearly high-profile duel against whatever team the media makes out to be a rival.
Oh, wait. There was a game before then? Even Kobe didn't know.
Let's start over. Fresh off a 19-point loss to the paraplegic Milwaukee Bucks, the worst Lakers' performance since Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Celtics, the purple and gold await one of the NBA's hottest teams for what could be a bloody yuletide celebration.
That explains why red is a Christmas color. It also explains the green, since that's the color of Chris Bosh's alien plasma-blood.
After Tuesday night's debacle, Lakers fans already chalked up the Xmas Xtravaganza as a loss, despite the fact Kobe and Co. have won eight of their last ten. Since Bryant's L.A. debut, the Lake Show is 5-6 on Christmas, and most people have as much faith in a victory as (spoiler alert) they do in Santa existing.
If your childhood is now crushed, sorry.
This year, however, could be different. The Bucks game clearly acted as the Admiral Ackbar of all trap games, and the Lakers sounded poised to rebound afterward. Now, the real question is how can they stop a team that has won 12 of its last 13?
Did I just clone Allen Iverson? Because I've got the five Answers.
5. Clean the Glass
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It's been said a million times that the Lakers' biggest strength is their size. Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have to do work down low for the team to have a chance.
Luckily for L.A., that's one Miami's holes.
Los Angeles trails only the Minnesota Kevin Loves in rebounding, snatching down a stellar 44.4 board per contest. The place where they stand out above Miami, however, is on the offensive glass, getting three more second chance opportunities.
Unless this game randomly turns into a blowout, that could make the difference.
The interesting thing about Miami's rebounding is that it doesn't come from the usual suspects. Chris Bosh grabs nearly eight per game (I know, seems very high for him), but the team's next two leading rebounders are LeBron James (6.5) and Dwyane Wade (6.4).
So what's the lesson here? Bryant and Ron Artest will have to box out for their lives.
Loser gets dropped in a snake pit.
4. Work Through the Post
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Of course, this brings back the effectiveness of size. If the Lakers can run the Triangle through the post, as opposed to the isolation sets they seem so fond of, the Heat could be in trouble.
If not, LeBron's talents will be all over Staples Center by the end of the game.
The Heat bring stalwart team defense to L.A., allowing the fewest points per game in the NBA. They do this by packing the middle of the lane with shot blocking, giving up the fifth fewest points in the paint and rotating quickly.
Seems pretty formidable, right? Well, the Lakers are quite a different team.
Gasol, Bynum and Odom are all extremely talented in the post, both passing and shooting. Guys like Bosh and Joel Anthony give up a decent amount of size to the trifecta, and it will be up to the big men to make the smart play, either hitting cutters or facing up for a jumper.
Essentially, be ready for a barrage of 10-footers. Can you say "exciting?"
3. Increase the Tempo
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Miami fans who find this idea will probably say, "The Heat are a much better team on the break than the Lakers, you idiot," and then laugh because the most recent Lakers' fast break picture available was from the NBA Finals.
Not a joke.
But that's why we say "Increase the tempo," not "Get Out on the Break." Miami's defense wants to play half-court sets and react. On their recent 12-game winning streak, opponents never dropped more than 100 points, and eclipsed 90 only five times.
And in games with plenty of garbage time, that screams one thing: they want to grind it out.
The Lakers can do it but don't excel at it. L.A. gives up 97.9 points per game, which is in the league's bottom half, so they prefer to outscore. Allowing for more possessions, setting the offense up early and pushing early and often will make it a Lakers' brand game, making the Heat adjust.
They don't want a track meet by any means, but a healthy run wouldn't hurt. Essentially, do what the British competitor does in the 100 meters.
2. Force the Ball Around
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Look, it's the only promising Laker photo from Tuesday's game. Copy and paste, purple and gold faithful.
Fortunately, Ron Artest's mitts will come in handy against Miami, as getting the ball to swing around could actually benefit the Lakers.
You may not know this, but the Heat acquired three All-Stars who are used to having the ball in their hands. James, Wade and Bosh (and, sometimes, Eddie House) love to go one-on-one, especially in mismatches, so the heat playbook is full of screens that lead to isolation.
Defending the King solo sounds like a trip to Abu Grhaib, but it does reveal a chink in the armor: assists.
The Heat are in the bottom ten in dimes, a product of their play calls. They find plenty of ways to score, but not as well as a team can. Double teams and effective rotation can force the ball into uncomfortable situations for the Heat and possibly lead to turnovers.
What's better for the Lakers: A LeBron James 20-footer or a Carlos Arroyo ten-footer? A hundred and one times out of 100, it's the latter. So make it happen.
1. Avoid Second Half Slumping
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Finding a picture to represent slumping is difficult, but Gasol's face truly shows the agony of a 33-point half at home.
Slow second half starts have become a common sight for Lakers fans, and the Heat are the worst possible team to have one against.
Just look at Miami's winning streak. They averaged seven more points than opponents did in the third quarter and were only outscored in one fourth quarter (at Cleveland, which they won by 28). They blow the lid open to start the second half, then lock it down once the lead is big enough.
That doesn't exactly bode well for the Lakers, the definition of a fourth quarter team.
Even during the Bucks loss, the Lakers seemed to just say, "We'll get 'em in the fourth. No big deal." They've grown so accustomed to coming back because it's happened so often. But reality set in at the right time: If they couldn't do it against an undermanned Milwaukee, can they expect to do it against a mighty Heat squad?
No is the short answer. No is also the long answer.
This comes down to leadership, ergo, Kobe Bryant. Notice how the four previous answers don't have much to do with the Mamba, and that's why this is number one. If Bryant can't come out and muscle the Lakers away from a slump, no one will be singing Randy Newman any time soon.
In fact, no one should be singing Randy Newman ever. Maybe that will help the Lakers get a W too.