Let’s get a couple things clear. For one, Saturday’s Christmas clash is still a regular season game in December. No champions are crowned nor are any championship prospects decided this time of year. That being said, this is the biggest game of the year for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lake Show hasn’t exactly been playing the NBA’s best this year making their 21-8 record all the more embarrassing. But these are still the two-time defending champs. This is the same core that has gone to the last three NBA Finals. This is still a team that might not be as focused on Milwaukee in December as they will be on Boston in June.
These Lakers are still the champs and to be the man…well…you know the rest.
This game means much more for Miami than it does for the Lakers. Both teams have been held to scrutiny due to lackluster play this year. Both teams still have question marks, though it is much different for the Lakers than the Heat.
Those that question the Lakers do so only because they lack the consistent effort of champions and not the pedigree. Miami, on the other hand, is still an unknown which is why Saturday’s game means more to them than Los Angeles.
From the outside-in, Miami goes from great to gruesome. Beating the Heat is a simple recipe for the Lake Show. Pound them in the paint and turn this game into a half court contest. Miami’s biggest question mark is their lack of size and interior presence.
Kobe Bryant should be able to take a backseat on offense and focus his attention on slowing Dwyane Wade on defense. Easier said than done as KB24 lives for these games and has no doubt been counting down the hours after the Milwaukee debacle. If Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are effective early, the entire floor will open for Bryant and Lamar Odom to operate offensively.
As for LeBron James, well, he’s got to deal with Ron Artest. While no man is capable of stopping the self proclaimed King, Artest can certainly manage to frustrate him. Ron Ron’s defensive prowess and similar size to LeBron make for the perfect storm. Artest might not be seen as the same elite level defender of years past but he’s still got the strongest and quickest hands on the planet and his footwork is a sharp as it’s ever been.
Lastly, we come to a factor that could weigh heavily in the outcome – the bench. The Killer B’s must be at their best on Saturday. The Renegades have proven invaluable in many instances this season. Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown and Steve Blake have all helped to ignite many a run that has closed out some close contests this season. Saturday could be no different.
So, the real question is can the Heat handle the Lakers? There really is no reason why the Lakers shouldn’t be able to impose their will from the opening tip. The only reason we wonder if the Lake Show is up for the task relates to their manic tendencies. Miami won’t have to play a perfect game if Phil Jackson doesn’t get an inspired effort from his team. But by the same token, the Lakers know this is just one game in a long season. For Miami, it is much more. For the Lakers it is not a defining moment but it is the biggest test to date.
Get your eggnog ready!