Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat: Breaking Down Christmas Day Showdown
The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat are headed for a crash course this Saturday when they meet up on Christmas. This is arguably the most anticipated matchup for the 2010-11 NBA season.
After both teams went on a losing streak a few weeks back, instead of hitting the panic button, they have rallied to put themselves back on track to fight for the No.1 seed in their respective conferences.
Come Christmas, who has the advantage on paper in this monumental showdown?
Well, this isn't really much of a matchup.
Let's take a look at Phil Jackson's illustrious resume: 11-time NBA champion, he's won Coach of the Year, he is one of only seven coaches with 1,000 wins and he's in the Hall of Fame.
Erik Spoelstra was an assistant coach when the Heat won a title in 2006, but he failed to guide the Heat past the first round of the playoffs in his first two seasons as head coach.
Of course, it's hard to blame Spoelstra for those losses when the team was essentially Dwyane Wade and a bunch of spare parts. You could even argue it was a miracle that the Heat did so well with the weak team constructed around Wade.
Amid criticism and speculation over his job security, Spoelstra worked through the adversity and came out on top. He's an up-and-coming coach that seems to garner enough respect, but he's just starting his career while Jackson is at the tail end of his.
Maybe if Spoelstra guides the Heat to numerous titles and enjoys a long and prosperous career we can compare the two then, but doing it now would be insulting Jackson and all that he has done for the sport.
Edge: Los Angeles
Duel of the Shooting Guards
When talking about the best shooting guards in the game, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant are in a class of their own.
Most will put Bryant at No. 1, some will anoint Wade over Bryant, and others will say they're 1a and 1b.
Despite Wade being my favorite player, even I have to give the edge to Bryant in this battle. However, it really isn't by much. Wade is nipping at his heels and there's a very fine line separating the two.
Edge: Los Angeles
Battle Between the Small Forwards
LeBron James may be public enemy No. 1, but he's still one of the three best players in the NBA today. He's the reigning two-time NBA MVP and he trumps both Ron Artest and Lamar Odom single-handedly.
Artest has regressed significantly this season and he has become a liability on offense. Odom, on the other hand, is enjoying perhaps his best season as a pro so far.
While Odom will likely see some time at the power forward spot, he'll undoubtedly be pitted against James on a number of occasions throughout the game.
Even with James' numbers taking a hit this season, he's far and away the best player in this positional battle.
Power Forward Matchup
Chris Bosh started the season slow, often looking lost on the court. However, he's picked up the slack after he got a rude awakening in the form of a very unflattering theme song.
Pau Gasol was the opposite of Bosh. He started the season looking like an unstoppable machine, absolutely destroying opposing frontcourts. While he's still putting up great numbers, they've tailed off after a hot start.
Both are labeled finesse forwards and they are considered to be soft for their position—hence the power in quotations marks—but Bosh takes that definition to a new level.
If you throw out the numbers and look at each player individually, the battle is not close. Not only is Gasol the better power forward, he is arguably the best in the game today.
Edge: Los Angeles
The Heat are actually rated higher than the Lakers in defensive efficiency. They allow fewer points, they hold opponents to a lower field goal and three-point percentage, and their margin of victory is wider.
Miami may have two of the best perimeter defenders in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, but their frontcourt is a different story.
In spite of the Heat holding the statistical advantage, the Lakers are still one of the best defensive units in the NBA.
Ron Artest may not be a lockdown defender anymore, but he's a formidable defender that will give LeBron James fits throughout the game. Kobe Bryant is still one of if not the best perimeter defender in the NBA.
Plus, with Andrew Bynum back in the lineup, he gives the Lakers another seven-footer to pair with Pau Gasol in the middle.
The Heat have a carousel of big bodies to rotate into the frontcourt, but none that are young or skilled enough to match up against the Lakers frontcourt. If Bynum is at full strength and he can effectively work his way into the rotation, he can cause some serious problems for the Heat.
Battle of the Benches
Miami has some solid contributors off the bench, but none that are any true game changers.
The Heat will be getting back sharpshooter Mike Miller in time for their Christmas Day showdown, and while he'll certainly help to space the floor and give the Heat a zone buster, that may not be enough against the Lakers reserves.
The Lakers bench is deep, experienced and just plain better than Miami's pine. Shannon Brown is one of the top sixth men in the NBA and the Lakers can call on any number of players off their bench to come in and contribute.
The team also just got back Andrew Bynum, so regardless of whether or not him or Lamar Odom comes off the bench, the Lakers have a significant advantage here.
Edge: Los Angeles
After a lackluster start to the season, the Heat have really turned it on in the last dozen games. They're currently on a 12-game winning streak after a thrilling finish in our nation's capital and they'll be looking to extend that lead to 14 before their showdown with the Lakers.
However, in order to do so, they'll have to win against the Dallas Mavericks tonight and the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. Should they ride the hot hand throughout this week until Saturday's bout, it could pay great dividends come game time.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are riding a five-game winning streak and they've won eight out of their last nine games since that disastrous four-game losing streak. They're likely to stretch that win streak to six with the Milwaukee Bucks up next.
On paper, the Lakers will have the upper hand on Christmas. However, the battle is won on the hardwood, and in reality, either team can walk away with a victory.
The main factor the Heat have going for them in all of this is their ace card: LeBron James. He alone evens out all the other positional matchups that the Lakers have.
Either way, fans are in store for a great game on Christmas and this is the perfect way to top off the holiday weekend.