The Los Angeles Lakers, 46-19, come to south Florida tonight riding an eight-game winning streak. The Miami Heat, 43-21, are on a season-worst five-game losing skid. Arguably, both squads lead their respective conferences in number of bright lights and legions of ‘opinionaires’ that follow them closely no matter where and when they play across the NBA league-scape. And tonight when they tip-off at the American Airlines Arena, the sum of these attention-circuses will be even greater than the parts themselves.
40-year-old Miami third-year head coach Erik Spoelstra took his Heat team into SoCal on Christmas Day and bested the Lakers at Staples 96-80. The Heat were led by two-time reigning league MVP LeBron James’ 27 points and 10 dimes. Eighth-year 6’11” PF Chris Bosh pulled down 13 boards in that holiday victory in front of Tinsel Town’s glitterati. Miami outscored LA in every quarter in that first of two meetings this 2010-2011 season.
These two combatants are eerily similar statistically at this point. Both sit in the 3-spot in their NBA conferences. The Lakers average 101.8 ppg and the Heat put up 101.5 ppg. LA has limited opponents to 95.2 ppg, while Miami has held their foes to 95.0 ppg. And both teams lead their divisions, going 9-3 against their Southeast and Pacific rivals respectively. Los Angeles also has its own ‘Big 3’ in Bryant-Gasol-Odom, whom coach Phil Jackson relies on for the crucial statistics of points, rebounds and assists only slightly less than Spoelstra depends on the production of the James-Wade-Bosh triumvirate.
However, the macro-view of this matchup reveals some major differences – most noticeably the Title differential. Future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant has five Championship rings, while LeBron James, in his eighth season, has no rings and only one Finals appearance in 2007, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept 4-love by San Antonio. The Lakers have been the last team standing in 16 NBA campaigns – the Miami Heat only once, in 2006. Phil Jackson has 13 Championship rings (2 as a player and a record-11 as a coach) and won his very first title as a player on the 1970 New York Knicks, six months before Erik Spoelstra was born.
Heat team President Pat Riley, a seven-time NBA Champ (1 as a player and 6 as a coach) and fellow 1967 NBA Draft class alum along with University of North Dakota’s Jackson, will surely be watching intently from his perch in the Triple-A tonight. Many paid and amateur observers of Dr. Naismith’s game have been speculating on the Heat’s recent tumble and whether the ‘bench-dynamic’ in Miami needs tweaking. No doubt LA will go after Miami like a lion pursuing a wounded prey. The big question is how will the Heat respond? The stage is set for a riveting drama to unfold live on TNT when the Miami Heat host the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at 7:00 PM ET.