During the early stages of his career, most LeBron James games against Kobe Bryant were about the individual rivalry. Now that everyone is all grown up, the Los Angeles Lakers facing the Miami Heat is about winning to save a season, or at least put it on the right path.
There is no other team in the NBA that needs a big win as much as the Lakers do. Well, maybe that’s not so true. They did beat the New York Knicks on Christmas, and that was a big win. That was followed by seven losses in the next 8 games, including the period of playing without Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
Now Dwight Howard is back, and the Lakers are actually winning consecutive games, with a chance to win three in a row for the first time since the end of December. Howard, Howard, and Howard again. That’s the key for the Lakers. A dominant game from the best center in the NBA opens up so much for the Lakers, who will also be enjoying the return of Pau Gasol.
It frees up Kobe Bryant, which is the most dangerous thing. Howard, scoring 26.5 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in the last couple of games, needs to find his way against Chris Bosh and a Miami Heat defense that usually struggles on the road and especially when it comes to rebounding, one of the Lakers’ strong suits, will make the entire team play better, as Steve Nash will have a lot more free players in front of him all of a sudden.
For the Miami Heat, who were young and up coming a minute ago, it’s suddenly about resting old and painful bones, giving Bosh, Wade and James a fourth quarter rest after three great quarters in the 92-75 win vs the Warriors. Still, the recent road trip hasn’t been too kind on the Heat, losing to the Pacers, Blazers and the Jazz, displaying all the things that have been troubling them this season: Lazy on defense too often, while players not called LeBron James don’t show up, including stars like Bosh and Wade.
Still, this feels like one of those games in which James and Wade can try to win it on their own. There’s a six day resting period coming after this, which means there are no minutes and fatigue to consider. Just play a big game, win it, and go home happy. Despite all the talk about fatigue, they’re 4-1 this season on back-to-back nights; James is averaging 27.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists on games after no rest. Keeping most of the players in check is a key for the Lakers, but it doesn’t mean James can’t win it on his own.
Prediction – If the Heat run the way they did early on against the Warriors, the Lakers’ defense has no chance of stopping them. This will be about Bryant not getting forced into a duel but keeping things focused on Howard if he wants to come away with a win instead of big numbers.