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Sizing up whether Boston or Miami is more threatening to the Lakers

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It's only 29 games into the season, so there's no reason the Lakers should be comparing how their records stack up among Western and Eastern Conference opponents.

"It's still too early," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said.

But the first two months of the NBA regular season has at least given the Lakers enough of a sample size to see who they should worry about the most once the dog days of the season hit in January and February and when the standings race tightens in March and April. The Lakers' (21-8) meeting with Miami (22-9) on Christmas Day marks the beginning of a tougher schedule that will also feature stops at San Antonio (25-4) and New Orleans (17-12) and a monthlong stretch in January when seven of the Lakers' 15 games feature playoff opponents if the season were to end today. So at least from a fan perspective, it doesn't hurt to look at the Lakers-Heat game through a prism of which Eastern Conference team should prove most threatening to the Lakers should they make their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

"We're going to have to be attentive to all the teams now just so we don't miss out," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson with a smile. "We had a penchant for not losing to teams under 50% with our win-loss record, but we lost that a little bit."

Lakers forward Lamar Odom remained equally vague when he said, "All three of those teams in a series, you never know who could win."

But Jackson and Odom provided enough clues on whom the Lakers have their sights on throughout the rest of the season. Jackson ticked off Boston, Miami, Chicago and Atlanta. Both mentioned Orlando because of its recent trade involving sending Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and a 2011 first-round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark as well as shipping Rashard Lewis to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas.

"It'll be a fight," Odom summed up.

But the overall sentiment among fans involves Boston or Miami. Below the jump I break down which one would be more threatening to the Lakers. 

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Team: Boston Celtics

Record: 23-4

Why they could be the Lakers' main threat in the East: The Celtics are the NBA's hottest team right now with 14 consecutive victories, the league's longest mark since Boston went undefeated for 19 consecutive games in 2008. They've beaten eight teams by double figures during their run. They've closed out four games with a four-point margin of victory or fewer. And Celtics forward Glen Davis has remained consistent, scoring double figures 10 times in the last 11 games.

But Boston's also managed to remain undefeated within the past month for finding ways to fight adversity. The Celtics' 84-80 victory Tuesday over the Philadelphia 76ers featured poor play in the first three quarters, thanks to forward Paul Pierce missing eight of his first 10 shots, Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels combining for three of 13 and the team shooting 42.2% overall. Despite missing 12 of their first 16 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter, Boston made up for it with timely shots in the last five minutes.

The Lakers always take the Celtics seriously. They are rivals after all. But Boston's dominating success proves a tad surprising simply because they've managed to overcome some significant absences. Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal hasn't played a single minute during the team's 14-game winning streak because of left knee soreness and a recent flu. Boston forward Delonte West served a 10-game suspension and then broke his wrist five games later. Shaquille O'Neal has missed nine games because of knee and calf issues. And Boston has been without Kendrick Perkins since he injured his right knee in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Lakers, though he's expected to be cleared for contact drills within two to three weeks.

Why they might not be:The Lakers share the same problem with Boston. Whether the Lakers three-peat will largely determine to what degree they manage to stay healthy. That's a very difficult thing to predict seven months from now, but it wouldn't be surprising if injuries served as the main reason the Celtics fall short. Despite the team's success, Boston Coach Doc Rivers revealed he doesn't have a good feel for his team simply because it doesn't have a full lineup. Also, winning streaks don't really mean much in December. Case in point, the Celtics reeled off an 11-game winning streak last season only to drop eight of 14 games in January. Rivers doesn't believe that will happen again, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allenand Pierce remaining in good health, but Rivers can't say the same thing of his other players.

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Miami

Record: 22-9

Why they could be the Lakers' main threat in the East:

After slogging through an 8-6 start, LeBron James and Chris Bosh complaining about the adversity and constant speculation regarding Erik Spoelstra's job security, the Heat have managed to put all of that behind them by going on a recent 12-game winning streak. Before Miami's 95-83 victory Thursday over the Phoenix Suns, the Heat entered that game with clear statistical discrepancies between the team's first 17 games and the last 13 contests where they went 12-1. Those areas include record (9-8, 12-1), point differential (+5.9, +14), three-point field-goal percentage (36%, 44%), fast break points (13.6, 16.2), rebounding margin (.6, +6.5).

Jackson remarked that the main difference between their road loss Nov. 27 to Dallas and their Monday loss to Dallas pointed to the team's improved chemistry, which accounted for an eight-game winning streak between those games. Miami displayed that against Phoenix, managing to absorb Dwyane Wade's absence because of a sore left knee thanks to increased roles from James (36 points) and Bosh (23 points, 11 rebounds). And the other factor entailed the Heat's league-leading effort on total defense (allowing 91.19 points per game)

It appeared the unfamiliarity and the team's initial failure to withstand adversity would lead to a spiraling mess. But instead it served as a teachable moment for the team's development. The Heat's comfort level will only improve more and more as the season progresses, making them one dangerous team once June hits.

"It's a team we respect," Gasol said of Miami, "and a team we want to beat."

Why they might not be: Miami hasn't really done anything, with 16 of their victories coming against losing teams and having a 0-3 mark against title contenders, including two losses to Boston and a loss to Dallas. The Lakers' bench also proves more consistent and experienced than Miami's. They have supporting cast players in Ron Artest and Matt Barnesto lock down on the likes of James and Wade. And they have the frontline advantage in Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum over Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem. The fact that the Heat views the Christmas Day game as more important than the Lakers considers it shows Miami isn't well equipped enough to survive a possible seven-game series. They're too worried about proving they belong among the league's elite, while the Lakers are just worried about the games that matter in the postseason.

--Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant runs the length of the court to join his teammates for a celebration after defeating Paul Pierce (34) and the Boston Celtics, 83-79, on Thursday night in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.

 Photo: Kevin Garnett and the Celtics are again the top-ranked team in the NBA. Credit: Jason Miller / US Presswire


Photo: Heat guard Dwyane Wade congratulates teammate LeBron James during a 98-96 loss to the Mavericks in Dallas on Monday. Credit: Hans Deryk/Reuters

 
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What? No Chicago Bulls? OK.

It has been a good day. DJ LRob, I now hand it off to you sir and the afternoon & evening Crue'. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL...COME OUT TOMORROW READY TO FIGHT!!!!!!!!! GOOOOOO LAKERSSSSSSS!!!

Is the West a Kupcake Walk in the Park with Luke?

Mamba24- aka the GODFATHER, you've been on fire today. Merry Christmas to you and the family. Remember Jesus is the reason for this season, Peace and Blessings my Brother.

Blog Crue, Be safe this Holiday. Remember to not drink and Drive, being responsible save lives.

We'll all celebrate tomorrow.

last season, i wanted boston in the finals because i thought they were our best chances to win a 'chip as opposed to going up against cleveland or orlando. this year, i still want boston for no.17 and because they're still our best chance to win. they're big three our on the same age level as our guys so the nba mileage is about the same. better to go against those guys as opposed to some young, hungry, motivated and angry heat players. i'll take boston over the heat.

Happy Holidays :-) and let's kick some Heat @$$ tomorrow afternoon!

MM,
Forget about Miami/Boston. We might not make it out of the West.

Merry Christmas to all of the Laker faithful. Hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and a great new year. Tomorrow is what everyone has been waiting for and it is about time for the Lakers to take it out of cruise control and start playing like they are capable of. After Miami it is San Antonio and New Orleans on the road so these next 3 games should be interesting and hopefully it wakes the Lakers up.

Today, the Celtics are the best team in the east and the Spurs are tops in the west. I have to believe that the Lakers will get their act together, but winning the west will not be the cakewalk that it was last year.

As for who is the biggest threat in the east, I don't see how anyone can pick against the Celtics. They are banged up and still winning games at a great rate. With a championship pedigree, they are clearly the biggest threat in the east. Miami, at this point, is just a fantasy bball team. No size, no point guard and no depth.

Merry Christmas! Peace within You!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1zm4E9d1oo

MM

In the East, Boston is hands down the only team that has a chance to beat us in a 7 game series if we're healthy. They would have to be 100% as well. This is still a big man's game and they beefed up down low. They are motivated and still go to sleep thinking about Game 7. In the West, it's Dallas, but even there I'm not convinced that they could handle us in a 7 game series.

I think there are 3 approaches that Lakers fans take:

1) The Confident Approach. This type of fan doesn't give the regular season much meaning and takes a more historical approach. It's a matter of jelling as a unit and playing great basketball starting in Round 1 of the playoffs. As long as the Lakers secure a 1 through 4 seed in the West, our championship experience alone can will be enough to carry us to a three-peat, HCA or no HCA ... as long as we're healthy.

2) The Paranoid Approach. This type of fan thinks that every regular season game is important and that the past is the past. He thinks that we can only measure ourselves against this season's competition and that HCA is not only important, but essential to a three-peat. In the mind of this type of fan, our championship experience has no bearing whatsoever on what we will do in the playoffs this season and our record in the regular season will be very telling in that regard one way or the other. Most important, if we don't win "statement" games, the Lakers are doomed to failure in the playoffs, even a probable Round 1 or Round 2 exit. Therefore, regardless of thrice tested championship experience, a relatively "poor" regular season will translate into failure in a 7 game series in the playoffs.

3) The Hybrid Approach. This type of fan feels that it is important to secure HCA through at least Round Two of the playoffs, preferably all the way through, and that we must win the majority of our "statement" games in the regular season so that we know where we stand against the elite teams. Also, it is extremely important that we play our best ball down the stretch of the regular season, unlike last season, so that we have momentum going into the playoffs playing our best basketball at the right time of the season.
=====

As everyone knows, I'm a snob, so put me in category #1. I accept the fact that I am probably in the minority in my thinking. I did not think like this until last season. I felt that playing our best basketball down the stretch was important, but was not overly concerned about HCA in the Finals after 2009. However, after the Lakers fizzled down the stretch and were all beat up physically through the playoffs, yet we STILL won a championship, I have supreme confidence in this team starting out 0-0 in Round 1 if healthy. It's deeper and .. other than Fish who was old last season, too .. our core is still in its prime. My only caveat is that Andrew Bynum needs to be closer to 100% than he was last season.

I still think that if healthy, only the Lakers can beat the Lakers in a 7 game series regardless of what transpires over the second and third trimesters of the regular season.

the lakers are going to get it together, they are one of the best teams in the league and have a great chance to win a 3-peat if they start playing like everyone knows they can. Merry Christmas to all Lakers fans and lets watch the Lakers kick ass tomorrow!!

MVP,

You provided an interesting grouping. I think most fans are a combo of two of the categories. For example, I'm about 65% #1 and 35% #3.

I'm very confident this team will 3peat if healthy. But the teams below were confident they're repeat also:

1986 Lakers - After winning in Boston in 85...I thought a repeat was imminent. That team ran into a buzz saw in Houston and after winning the first game, the Lakers were swept. (I sensed the team was over confident and lost to a more athletic Rockets team that took control of the paint and series. Once Houston saw they could beat the Lakers their confidence soared and perimeter players even shot better. Remember how well Lloyd, Levell and Wiggins started shooting. We said they couldn't keep hitting, but they did.)


1991 Pistons - They had whupped the Bulls in the playoffs repeatedly. They were the two time defending champions. The Bulls were consistent all season finishing 1st in the East. The Pistons ho-hummed their way to 3rd in the East, and said they would raise there game in the playoffs. In the playoffs the Bulls had HC and won the first two games. The Pistons said "no worries" they would win back at home. The Bulls won both games in Detroit and swept the series 4-0.


2003 Lakers - 3 time defending champs going for the 4peat. Team won despite HC in 2001 in SA and 2002 in SAC, thus HC was would not be a factor. This team had proven it could win anywhere at anytime when the chips were down. They finished 5th in the West. Won a tough series in the 1st rd 4-2 over Minn. Next up were the Spurs. The Lakers had swept them in 2001 and beat them 4-1 in 2002. So what was there to worry about. SA held court winning the first two at home. The Lakers responded and did likewise to even the series. SA won a tight gm 5 at home for a 3-2 lead. We all knew the Lakers would win gm 6 at home and go back to SA and take care of business just like they did against the Kings in 2002. The Spurs blew the Lakers out in LA. Remember how poor Horry shot in that series (2-38 from 3pt), we said he couldn't keep shooting that poorly...he was Big Shot Rob...but he did.

LRob

OK, then there's a fourth category called "The LRob Approach."

Merry Christmas!

Its merry chirstmas time in london town, not sure about america
so here is a preemptive merry christmas with a roll call of people on this blog from the top of my head
god bless everyone,

MM
mamba24 (God)
calistophler ( my u.k compadre)
JAMF (the other God)
houston laker (just after me in the roll call)
63 footer
LakerTom
Lrob
art fl
kobemvp88

love you all you have become my family

London Laker - a Merry Happy to you and to all a good night!

Oh, and: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPHgCHuovE4

LRob,

well said.

Kobe - I would say the Lakers should adopt category #3 just so they can build up enough investment to absorb unpredictable circumstances beyond their control ie injuries, other teams playing ridiculously well, etc. The Lakers don't need to treat every game like a Super Bowl, but the pacing has to be tactical. It can't just be mailing it in

why we are talking for boston or miami heat here...we take care first san antonio or dallas before thinking the eastern team...im scared if fisher continue playing as starter goodbye june as i guess

KobeMVP888: 2.8 here.

Merry Christmas all! Today is the day to adopt more positive attitudes, especially BEFORE the game is played. lol


Hopefully we are eating our holiday dinner with a grin because the Lakers put out best effort and kept the march down the lane to a minimum.

Peace and warm wishes to all whether you are in category #1, #2, or #3.

MVP,

I like your categorization of Laker Threepeat Index. I have to go with "The LRob Approach" though. 60% #1 and 40%#3. I know we have a much better team than the last couple of years. The killer Bs make our bench a formidable one. Our reserves are like Bench Bandits, stealing the limelight from other team's benches, and even from our starters at times. So I like our chances for a threepeat very much.

However, I also believe in Aristotle's words: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." It's troubling when a team acquires bad habits that dog them through a season. Hopefully the Lakers will be able to shake these off when it starts to matter, and reacquire the good habits they need in preparation for the playoffs. That being said, is HCA that important? I think it depends on several factors - home crowd and the team we're playing against. Against a team like Orlando or Heat, I don't think it matters as much. But against Boston? Heck, yeah! The fan base has a proud history of excellence and they have the same mentality as any great teams - it's win it all or die trying! Making it to the finals is nothing to celebrate about - big whoop, been there, done it - many times! It's hoisting the banner that matters. Playing in their homecourt is more intimidating than playing in San Antonio or Miami.

The Celtics also has that same fire burning as we did two years ago, after losing in the NBA finals in such a humiliating manner. Remember how every Laker had a chip the size of Pluto on his shoulder that year? Sasha won't even wear green for a year. This year Celtics have that same desire for redemption and when healthy, have much better pieces surrounding the big 3. I was skeptical about Shaq, but Doc Rivers know exactly how to utilize him and it's looking like a really good pickup. They have better size upfront and Delonte West is another good shooter to pair up with Ray Allen. Their reserves, in other words, is as good as ours.

Besides the chip on the shoulder, most members of this Celtics team has been to the highest level and know how to get it done. The current Heat, on the otehr hand, still needs to develop the collective experience to get it done at that level.

So who do I find more threatening, Celtics or Heat? Hands down, the boys in green.

All I wanted for Christmas was Mark Medina to return from vacation -- and it happened! Joy to the Lakers blog. . . .

The roll has been called, Lakerholics and those who like to engage the brethren are off and chatting, and the first of five NBA games (Knicks-Bulls) is coming to an end.

Just wanted to officially stop in and say 'Happy Holidays' to all. By the time my Blazers take the court against the Warriors tonight, most of you will be done hotly debating what the Heat-Lakers outcome means in the NBA universe.

Enjoy the game, live chat and, most importantly, one another. Peace to all as we roll toward 2011.


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