NBA

Heat-Lakers would be fascinating Finals

Dwayne Wade of the Heat and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers (Getty Images)
The Dwayne Wade-Kobe Bryant matchup might determine the 2011 title.
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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Let’s speed up the bouncing ball, fast-forward to next June, and make the following reasonable assumptions:

• Both the Lakers and the Heat have survived the season so far in good health.

POLL

  • Who would win a Heat-Lakers Finals?
    • Heat
    • Lakers
    • No idea, but I'd love to see it

• None of the participants have been either arrested or suspended.

• Both teams have successfully fought off their conference rivals and reached the Finals.

• At this ultimate level of competition, none of either team’s rookies will be sufficiently matured to be able to contribute anything more than an occasional deliberate foul.

What, then, might conceivably happen in the championship series that virtually every NBA junkie is already anticipating? Barring further trades and/or free agent signings, the position-by-position matchups are incredibly intriguing.

POINT GUARDS

Even in his declining years, Derek Fisher’s savvy position defense won’t be abused by either Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo, simply because Miami’s trigger-men will only be allowed to take left-over shots. At the same time, Fisher’s opportunistic offense comes down to his taking (and usually making) clutch shots. The wild card at this spot is Steve Blake, who has more personal defense at his command than any of the others, and also has slightly more offense.

Advantage: The Lakers by the slightest of margins.

SHOOTING GUARDS

Dwyane Wade versus Kobe Bryant represents the marquee confrontation.

On defense, Wade has the right combination of strength and quickness to force Kobe to work with all his might just to get good looks at the hoop. Kobe, meanwhile, has three inches on his foe which, combined with D-Wade’s erratic jumper, will allow him to play his man for the drive. Because of Bryant’s dynamic jump-shooting, this is a convenience not available to Wade.

However, the necessity to play all-out defense will take a considerable toll on both of these guys. But since Kobe represents L.A.’s primary point-maker, while Wade has two other explosive scorers on his side, Bryant’s playing time might have to be foreshortened.

In other positional matchups, Mike Miller’s slow-footed defense will get torched by Kobe. But Bryant’s penchant for abandoning his man and chasing the ball on defense, could easily provide Miller with plenty of open shots. Matt Barnes is capable of playing tough, relentless defense on Wade and also of nullifying Miller. At the other end of the court, Barnes is a runner and finisher who will leave Miller in his dust and also force Wade to bust his gut more than would be desirable for Miami. The Heat will profit enormously if Barnes continues his career-long habit of taking too many ill-advised treys.

Advantage: The Lakers because Kobe’s offense is at least two or three percentile points in advance of Wade’s, and because Barnes’ defense is far superior to Miller’s.

SMALL FORWARD

Bruises will be incurred and blood will flow when Ron Artest and LeBron James face off against each other. There’s no way that Artest’s ornery defense can neutralize LBJ, but James will have to hit his perimeter shots to keep Ron-Ron at arms’ length. The best Artest can hope for is to exhaust James, limit his own fouls, and prevent the Lakers from having to double LeBron on a regular basis. At the other end, Artest lacks the offensive chops to eat up LeBron’s above-average but overrated defense.

Barnes' aggressive, fast-handed defense will do little more than occasionally annoy LeBron.

James could make a travesty of any small-forward confrontation by developing a part of his game that has been dormant, i.e., his low-post offense. Just a 25-percent improvement in his back-to-the-basket moves will force the Lakers to two-time him on every touch, leaving LeBron able and willing to make judicious passes.

Advantage: Big one here for Miami.

POWER FORWARD

The starting matchup will pit Pau Gasol against Chris Bosh, neither of whom can effectively guard the other. In the end-games, though, it’ll be Lamar Odom versus Bosh, with the former’s defense being a tiny bit better than the latter’s.

GOOD LUCK ... NOT!

Do the Heat have a superteam? We'll see. Charley Rosen says their success would be bad for the NBA.

For short stretches, Artest will also be sicced on Bosh with huge benefits accruing to L.A.. Udonis Haslem can just about put Odom’s offense in jail, but Gasol is too big and too long to be handcuffed in this particular scenario.

Advantage: Even

CENTER

Because of his size and length, Zydrunas Ilgauskas could easily stifle Andrew Bynum’s rather limited offensive moves in the low post. However, Bynum’s quickness will trump Z’s heavy sneakers on weakside cuts and speedy assaults on the glass. At the other end, Ilgauskas will be able to unload as many unobstructed mid-range jumpers as he cares to shoot — not to mention at least two put-backs per game while Bynum tries to figure out what he should be doing in defense of ball penetration.

Gasol’s ability to turn-face-and-do-whatever will destroy any defense that Ilguaskas or Jamaal Magoire can offer, while Haslem’ major shortcoming here is his abbreviated size. Magloire can bang Bynum around for a few minutes at a time, and judiciously use his fouls to soften up the youngster.

Joel Anthony has the verve and the hops to be bothersome, but he’s too vertically challenged to justify more than fleeting daylight. Even in his dotage, Theo Ratliff is still quick enough to harass the immobile Ilguaskas, to marginalize Magloire and Anthony, and to put a somewhat formidable road-block in front of the Lakers' basket. Juwan Howard’s inferior defense will make him an easy mark no matter where and when he plays.

Advantage: Lakers because of their length and versatility.

COACH

Phil Jackson has an eleven-ring edge on Erik Spoelstra and will out-adjust him before and during every game. However, in the likelihood that Miami loses three consecutive games during Spoelstra’s watch, look for Pat Riley to leap into the command seat. Then the sideline competition evens out, primarily because nobody can prepare a team for any given game any better than Riley.

Power rankings

Who's first? Who's worst? Check out our final NBA power rankings.

Still, the psychological and emotional edge provided by PJ’s last tour should be decisive.

INTANGIBLES

The Heat have more at stake than the Lakers. LeBron, in particular, must win the championship to justify his entire career and The Decision.

But, the Lakers know exactly what it takes to win, while only D-Wade has the same kind of knowledge and experience in Miami.

Which team will be hungriest? Which will execute better? Which superstar will dominate clutch situations?

It could all come down to a showdown between Kobe and Wade.

PREDICTION

Game 7 will be won by the Lakers in triple-overtime after LeBron misses a critical free throw.

If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email charleyrosen@gmail.com and he may respond in a future column.

Tagged: Lakers, Heat, Magic, Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant, Mike Miller, Pau Gasol, Matt Barnes, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Andrew Bynum

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