Pau Gasol, LeBron James

The two biggest rating juggernauts in the NBA are each doing as most expected them to so far this season. The Miami Heat are among the best teams in the NBA even though it doesn’t seem like they’re trying too hard to maintain their status, while the Los Angeles Lakers are carrying on the path of decline, mostly without Kobe Bryant on the floor to help them.

Bryant won’t be playing in this Christmas game, taking some of the star power the NBA was hoping for when they put these two teams together as the center of their schedule. Bryant did play some games this season, but another injury has taken him out for the next five weeks, which is still undetermined if it’s bad or good for the Lakers.

With or without Bryant, the Lakers are drifting further apart from the playoff picture in the West, now at 13-15. They’ve won only four of their last 11 in December, losing their last two road games against the Warriors and the Suns by a combined 46 points.

Things are very different for the Miami Heat. Wade, averaging 25.8 points and shooting 60% from the field over his last four games, took a rest in the Heat’s dramatic win over the Hawks so he’d be ready for some action in prime time against the Lakers. Michael Beasley won’t be playing but in general, the Heat have almost a full lineup to play against a team that two months into the season still isn’t quite sure about who their best players are and what their best lineup is.

The Miami Heat have won their last five games, all at home. They’ve been a bit more vulnerable on the road this season, losing four of their 11 games, including twice on their last road series which included tough games in Chicago and Indiana, but they’ve also beaten every Western conference team they’ve faced for almost a year, coming out as the victor in their last 18.

Prediction – The Lakers have a bad defense and no big man to make the Heat suffer in the paint (Gasol does badly against them usually). The Miami Heat seem to thrive when the spotlight is on them for Christmas games, but when breaking it down to the most basic level, they are simply a much better team than the Lakers are.