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.