Miami Heat would give Lakers trouble in NBA Finals
Team: Miami Heat
Lakers' record vs. Miami last season: 0-2
How Heat fared last season: Lost in six games to Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals
Why Miami is a threat to the Lakers: The Lakers' championship window is closing, while the Miami Heat's is just opening. Ridicule LeBron James' fourth-quarter collapses in the NBA Finals and the team's false expectations during a hastily arranged pep rally that they'd win "multiple championships." But after stripping away the hype, the Heat were two games away from winning the NBA title in only one season with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh playing together.
They showed more maturity as the season progressed in handling adversity, an area that will strengthen next season. Another season will also afford James and Wade time to figure out each other's roles, Bosh to become more consistent and President Pat Riley to pick up a free agent piece to bolster the roster. A healthier Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem will also give the Heat more depth.
Why the Lakers are a threat to Miami: The Heat's victories against the Lakers came at two separate moments that illustrated various weaknesses. The Christmas Day loss came at one of the team's low points, when complacency and distractions rattled the Lakers' focus. Kobe Bryant's continual frustration did little to ignite the team. The loss at Miami marked the Lakers' only loss in an 18-game stretch and coincided with Bryant trying to do too much and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum disappearing. An off-season full of rest and motivation will make the Lakers more equipped to handle Miami, including Bryant going mano y mano with Wade, Ron Artest guarding James, and Gasol and Bynum proving their size advantage over Bosh.
It's also presumptuous the Heat will correct the issues that plagued them in the NBA Finals. They'll go deep in the Eastern Conference, but there's no signs suggesting James will become a clutch fourth-quarter player when his play in seasons past has suggested otherwise. The Chicago Bulls will also give them fits before Miami can make it to the Finals.
Verdict: The Lakers should hope Miami loses earlier in the playoffs. That's because an off-season full of rest won't fundamentally change the teams' identities.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant, left, and LeBron James. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times