2010-11 NBA Predictions: Miami Heat Vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Who's Got The Edge?
The new Miami Heat may not have achieved anything on the court yet, but they have succeeded in becoming the most-hyped team in NBA history. Naturally, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers have become the most common benchmark as a comparison to the reconstructed Miami Heat.
While many have already assumed a Lakers-Heat matchup in the NBA Finals, neither the Miami nor Los Angeles is guaranteed a spot.
Miami's fiercest competition will derive from the Boston Celtics who brought back "the Boston Three Party (ft. Rajon Rondo)," the Orlando Magic who will feature an offensively-improved Dwight Howard after working with Hakeem Olajuwon this summer and the Chicago Bulls who brought Carlos Boozer over from Utah to combine forces with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Los Angeles still has to repeat in a tough Western Conference. The Dallas Mavericks are improved, the San Antonio Spurs remain a powerhouse of fundamentals with Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich and a promising Oklahoma City Thunder team with enough talent to rival the top teams in the NBA.
Despite all of this competition, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers remain overwhelming favorites in predictions for the NBA Finals. So let's be a little impatient and compare this "inevitable" NBA Finals matchup, or at least the Christmas Day matchup.
Despite a summer scare that he might join the Miami Heat this offseason, Derek Fisher returns to the Lakers. Los Angeles also managed to sign Steve Blake as a very capable backup.
Derek Fisher remains the Cal Ripken Jr. of basketball, having played all 82 games in the last five seasons and seven of the last eight seasons. Fisher is not a terrific scorer, distributor, or rebounder, and he does not shoot particularly well from the field. Fisher's most essential attribute comes with his ability to limit turnovers, play strong defense, as well as hit open three pointers.
Steve Blake is the more offensively-talented point guard, but he does not have the intangibles that Fisher has. Nevertheless, Blake is more than capable as a backup point guard for Phil Jackson, and will contribute both as a scorer and distributor off the bench.
The Miami Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra, on the other hand, face a conundrum at the starting point guard position. While Mario Chalmers started the first 22 games in the 2009-2010 season, he relinquished the starting job to Carlos Arroyo who maintained a stranglehold on the spot throughout the rest of the season. Currently, however, Chalmers is considered the favorite to gain the starting role.
Why is Chalmers the favorite? While Chalmers's ball-handling and defense could best be described as erratic, he has more talent than Arroyo. Chalmers is extremely quick and athletic; however, he does not always retain focus as exemplified by a January game against the Celtics last season. In that game, Chalmers allowed Rondo to get behind him and score an easy game-tying layup to send the game into overtime.
Arroyo may be a little less talented and athletic than Chalmers, but he arguably has a better basketball IQ. The Puerto Rico native can limit turnovers and shoot a high percentage from the field; however, he is not a big threat from downtown and is not a top defender.
Neither team has overwhelming talent at the position and are both simply average.
Lakers Score: 5/10
Heat Score: 5/10
Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat feature superstar shooting guards in their starting lineups. Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade have already had some epic matchups against each other, including their last game where they combined for 68 points and 18 assists in an overtime thriller. Comparing Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant is a difficult task considering both are clearly top three players in the NBA.
Kobe is a scoring machine. He may lack sportsmanship, and if you asked him he would claim he has never committed a foul in his life; however, his talent is undeniable. Offensively, Kobe can shoot over defenders, drive to the basket, or even post up opposing shooting guards. Defensively, Bryant is an eight-time first team all-NBA defender. While there is considerable debate on the subject, many consider Kobe the best player in the entire league.
Wade is no slouch himself. Wade has a Finals MVP, six All-Star appearances, and numerous all-NBA accolades. Since Shaquille O'Neal was traded, Wade has single-handedly carried the Heat, but finally Wade has some help. Wade is a lights-out shooter, fantastic distributor, and the best shot-blocker under 6'5" that the league has ever seen. It will be interesting to see how Wade responds to finally having capable teammates.
Wade deserves a 10, but there has to be some differentiation between the two since Kobe is considered the best player in the NBA.
Lakers Score: 10/10
Heat Score: 9/10
The matchup at small forward is the first big sign of differentiation between the teams. Well, at least differentiation in terms of talent. Both Ron Artest and LeBron James certainly know how to get the attention of the media.
Since entering the league with Chicago in 1999, Artest has been most notable for his defense and unpredictable behavior. "Ron-ron" has racked up a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2004, as well as numerous All-NBA Defensive teams. Artest is certainly talented as a player, not so much as a rapper or postgame interviewer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMCeZK3OiKM&feature=related).
LeBron James is the most talked about player in the NBA. He arguably is the most talented player in the NBA. His numbers speak for themselves. For his career, James has averaged more than 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. He has won consecutive NBA MVP awards over the last two seasons, while also a member of the All-NBA First Defensive Team. This year with Miami, LeBron could threaten averages of a triple-double, while being surrounded by fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The biggest difference between the teams lies in the small forward position. Miami has a high-caliber superstar whose athleticism is unparalleled, while the Lakers have a talented nut-case.
Lakers Score: 6/10
Heat Score: 10/10
Similar to the matchup at shooting guard, this is a very close call. Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh are both premier power forwards in the NBA and are considered among the elite of all NBA players.
Since coming over from Memphis in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, Pau Gasol has been one of the most prominent reasons for the Lakers' success. Utilizing his ability to post-up, play the pick-and-roll and shoot a high percentage from the field, Gasol is the perfect complement to Kobe Bryant. The Spanish national is a terrific rebounder and a defensive force in the middle, averaging 1.7 blocks per game for his career. Gasol has had some struggles with durability in his career; however, when healthy he is one of the best No. 2 options in the game.
With all of the hype surrounding the pairing of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh sometimes gets lost in the excitement. Drafted in the same 2003 draft as teammates Wade and James, Bosh has been an absolute monster for the Toronto Raptors. Last season Bosh averaged 24 points and almost 11 rebounds, almost leading a severely under-talented Raptors team to the playoffs. With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade seeing consistent double-teams, Bosh will rack up easy points and rebounds while controlling the paint. In fact, Bosh could surprise many by actually leading the Heat in scoring this season if Wade and James face the majority of double-teams.
In the end, this matchup is too close to call. Neither play deserves a 10, yet eight is too low a score for both players as well.
Lakers Score: 9/10
Heat Score: 9/10
Both teams have question marks at center, so I will consider both the starters as well as the depth behind them. The Lakers unquestionably have the more talented center of the teams, but Andrew Bynum is out at least a month to start the season. Bynum has been hindered by injuries over the last few seasons, and durability has to be considered when evaluating his contributions.
The Lakers feature both Bynum and backup Theo Ratliff at center. Additionally, with his size Pau Gasol can play center if needed. When healthy, Bynum is a quality center capable of contributing through scoring, rebounding and defense. Bynum and Gasol form a frontcourt tandem that is unmatched by every other team in the league. Ratliff, who will not start over Lamar Odom, still will receive increased minutes at center, and while at age 37 he can still block some shots, he is a low-end option at the center position.
The Miami Heat have plenty of options at the center position, none of which seem to be strengths of the team. Joel Anthony appears to be in line for the starting job this season after receiving a five-year extension from Pat Riley in the offseason. While Anthony's essential contribution is not on the offensive side, Miami needs the Canada native to become a force in the rebounding department. In the preseason games thus far, Anthony has really struggled to rebound and will need to improve in that area or risk losing minutes. Other options for Miami include the offensive-minded Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the undersized Udonis Haslem or veterans Jamaal Magloire or Juwan Howard.
The Lakers clearly have more talent. The question is will Bynum be able to remain out of the trainer's room and on the court.
Bench: First Three Players In The Game
The benches of both teams have talent and depth at the different positions. Since Andrew Bynum will start the season injured, Lamar Odom will not play the role of super-sub for the first month; however, for the sake of evaluating the teams as a whole he will be considered a bench player.
Since the reverting to a bench player, Odom has lost some of his ability to contribute as a scorer, but he remains a versatile player who is one of the top sixth men in the league. Odom is a terrific rebounder, long defender, and a solid scoring option. Additionally, the Lakers will feature Matt Barnes and Steve Blake at small forward and point guard, respectively. Barnes is a journeyman, who is playing for his seventh team in eight NBA seasons. A solid three-point threat and rebounder, Barnes can also defend his position adequately. Blake will compete for minutes with Derek Fisher. Blake is a decent option at backup point guard and averaged more than 10 assists per 48 minutes last season.
The Heat have some great bench players as well. Udonis Haslem, as he did last year to Michael Beasley, must selflessly relinquish the starting role. Haslem is a fantastic rebounder, especially considered his size, and he has the ability to knock down the open jumper, an essential skill for playing with Wade and LeBron who draw help-side defenders. Miami also added another Florida Gator this summer in Mike Miller. Miller already has an NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, and is one of the best three-point shooters in the league. While Miller is mostly known for his shooting, he is actually an underrated rebounder and will contribute on the boards when the Heat go with smaller lineups. Zydrunas Ilgauskas will most likely see the bulk of the minutes as backup center. Big Z is not the former two-time All-Star that he used to be, but can still contribute by hitting open shots and rebounding.
Odom beats out Haslem by a hair, but Mike Miller provides a much better three-point threat off the bench than anyone on the Lakers. Also, with Odom starting for at least a month, the Lakers will feature Luke Walton more, and that is never a good thing.
Lakers Score: 6/10
Heat Score: 7/10
Los Angeles Lakers: 43/60
Miami Heat: 44/60
It is a close call, but Miami takes the evaluation by a hair. These evaluations, however, are made strictly on a talent standpoint. The Lakers have the considerable advantage of familiarity playing with each other as well as a coach who has far greater experience, especially in the postseason. Both teams will undoubtedly make the postseason as high seeds in their respective conferences. Time will only tell if the two teams will see each other in the NBA Finals, but at least we get to see them play twice this year.
Justin Eisenband is a Miami Heat Featured Columnist and Writing Intern For the Bleacher Report. To read more articles by him, visit his profile at http://bleacherreport.com/users/352849-justin-eisenband.