LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat watches the action from the sideline against the Golden State Warriors on December 10, 2010 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
Stocking stuffer for NBA fans
The NBA’s Christmas present to us all is the first confrontation of the season between the defending champion Lakers and the Heat. Here’s a look at the intriguing position-by-position matchups and Charley Rosen's analysis of who has the edge:
Point guards: Derek Fisher vs. Carlos Arroyo
Neither Arroyo nor Mario Chalmers will have the opportunities to take advantage of Fisher’s lack of foot speed. But, even in his dotage, Fisher will draw charges, and therefore will be slightly more of a factor on defense. However, Fisher’s biggest edge is his history of making clutch shots. The X-factor is when LeBron James functions as the point guard. ADVANTAGE: Under normal conditions, the Lakers by the slightest of margins. The balance swings dramatically to Miami with LeBron at point.
Shooting guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Dwyane Wade
Wade vs. Bryant is the marquee confrontation. Wade has the strength, quickness, and determination to force Kobe to work overtime just to get good looks. However, Kobe’s three-inch height advantage will allow him to take Wade into the low post. And because of Wade’s erratic jumper, Kobe can play him for the drive. The man-to-man responsibilities will take a toll on both guys. But since Kobe is the primary focus of L.A.’s offense, while Wade has two other explosive scorers on his side, Bryant’s daylight might have to be abbreviated. ADVANTAGE: With Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown also available to help Wade burn up vital energy, the Lakers get the nod for their depth and versatility.
Center: Andrew Bynum vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Ilguaskas will get opportunities to launch his steady mid-range jumpers and stretch his way into one or two putbacks. Since Bynum still is getting the feel of the game, he won’t be able to dominate Z in the pivot. But Pau Gasol will score every which way against Z’s oafish defense, and Erick Damper quickly will exhaust his foul quota beating up on Gasol and will be helpless to defend any turn-face-and-go situations. Ditto for Jamaal Magloire. ADVANTAGE: Big time for L.A.
Power forward: Pau Gasol vs. Chris Bosh
Neither Gasol nor Bosh can effectively guard the other. But Gasol is more versatile and will get more touches. When the game is up for grabs, though, the matchup will be Lamar Odom versus Bosh, with the former’s quickness, versatility and marginally better defense giving L.O. the edge. ADVANTAGE: A hefty one for L.A.
Small forward: Ron Artest vs. LeBron James
Look for plenty of bumps, bruises and even some blood when Artest squares off against LeBron. Still, not even Ron-Ron’s powerhouse defense will be able to neutralize LBJ, but James will have to hit his perimeter J’s to keep his foe at arm’s length. At the other end, Artest’s meager offense will allow LeBron to rest and roam. ADVANTAGE: Big one here for Miami.
Coaches: Phil Jackson vs. Erik Spoelstra
Because of Jackson’s big-game experience, his in-game adjustments could be decisive. While Spoelstra still doesn’t have either total control or total familiarity with his team, Jackson’s players are absolutely responsive to their coach’s impromptu chess moves. Also, P.J.’s latest (and final?) swan song will provide another psychological and emotional edge. ADVANTAGE: Another significant one for the Lakers.
The Heat have more at stake, having to prove that they really can compete at this level — and on the road to boot. The Lakers know what it takes to win, while only D-Wade has the same knowledge and experience for the visitors. Which team is hungriest? Which has the most confidence? Which will execute with more precision? Which will get more play and ball movement in their offense? Which superstar will dominate clutch situations? Despite all these considerations, the game easily could be decided by the showdown between Kobe and D-Wade. PREDICTION: The Lakers in double-overtime.