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Five things to watch in Lakers-Heat game

January 19, 2012 |  2:03 pm

LeBron James

Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (10-5) take their talents to South Beach and vist the Miami Heat (9-4) on Thursday evening at at American Airlines Arena:

1. LeBron James might be sick one way or another: James technically remains a game-time decision after leaving morning shoot-around because of flu-like symptoms. Go ahead. Throw your punch lines about James disappearing before the game even starts. But he'll likely play. Considering that he followed a listless first half against San Antonio with a dominant second half while feeling under the weather, the Lakers shouldn't exactly bank on James being ineffective.

Normally this matchup would go to Metta World Peace, but he's assumed a bench role and hasn't shown much with his speed. Matt Barnes could disrupt James' comfort zone. Or he might just commit silly fouls. It's all dependant if Barnes can channel that aggressiveness appropriately. Either way, Mike Brown is kind of familiar with James and probably has a good defensive game plan for him.

2. Kobe Bryant vs. Shane Battier: Without Dwyane Wade (left ankle sprain) and James' possible limitations, the Heat should feel fortunate that Battier will be there to defend Bryant. It's possible Bryant may go on a scoring tear, but Battier has always managed to force Bryant to work for his shots in the most undesirable locations. Considering that Brown wants to decrease Bryant's minutes and have a more balanced offense, Battier can surely disrupt that game plan.

3. Can the Lakers spread the wealth?Short-term, Bryant's scoring bursts have secured wins and entertained Laker fans every step of the way. But just because it's fun and effective to drive a sports car at 110 miles an hour doesn't mean it's always a good idea. Long-term, the Lakers have to feature a more balanced effort. As always, this macro issue falls equally on Bryant and his teammates. Kobe has taken some horrible shots during his scoring tear, while Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum haven't always remained aggressive-minded.

It's unrealistic for Brown's wishful thinking that the reserves can suddenly blossom to actually happen. That's why Bryant, Bynum and Gasol need to collectively operate as their own Big Three, where they're constantly feeding off one another. No better way to do that than against Miami's Big Three, or Big Two since Wade will be out.

 

4. The Lakers must control tempo. The easiest way to beat the Lakers involves forcing turnovers and taking advantage of them in transition. Well, the Lakers' "Welcome to Miami" moment won't be as enjoyable as Will Smith's song if they don't control the tempo. The Heat's offense features as much urgency as the Oregon Ducks showed on the college gridiron. Granted, Miami remains a work in progress. Its fast-paced attack has resulted in a league-worst 17.6 turnovers per game. Still, the Heat isn't leading the league in scoring (107.23) by accident. As impressively disciplined as the Lakers have looked on defense, most of that applies only in half-court sets. That effort will take a step back should the Lakers fail to control the pace.   

5. Norris Cole vs. Darius Morris will be fun to watch. Wade's injury will heighten Cole's role, while Steve Blake's continued absence from the rib/sternum injury has elevated Morris' minutes. Aside from Derek Fisher's experience and Mario Chalmers' shooting, the Cole-Morris matchup will probably prove to be the real entertainment. Cole goes full speed and creates instant offense coming off the bench. Morris displays a huge amount of confidence despite some of his questionable decision-making. But he's instantly bolstered the L.A. point guard unit's athleticism and playmaking abilities.

RELATED:

Mike Brown: Kobe Bryant more 'business-like' than LeBron James

Lakers' development proves more important than wins

Mike Brown hopes to lower Kobe Bryant's minutes

— Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Miami's LeBron James tries to drive past San Antonio's Cory Joseph, right, during the second quarter of the Heat's 120-98 victory Tuesday. Credit: Charles Trainor Jr. / MCT / January 17, 2012


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