Heat-Lakers Preview

In what was expected to be a marquee showdown between the Miami

Heat and Los Angeles Lakers is instead shaping up as a one-sided

affair.

LeBron James and the Heat go for a sixth consecutive win as they

visit the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers on Christmas Day.

While the NBA was hoping to showcase James and Bryant during its

nationally televised five-game slate, this contest won’t have

nearly the same appeal with Bryant again on the sidelines. Bryant,

the league’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 31,700 points, is

out with a fractured knee after missing the first six weeks while

recovering from a torn Achilles.

James, meanwhile, is coming off one of his best efforts of the

season, posting 38 points, eight rebounds and six assists in

Monday’s 121-119 overtime win over Atlanta. Miami (21-6) trailed by

as many as 11 in third quarter and seven with 90 seconds left in

regulation before storming back.

“Obviously, after going through what we experienced last year in

The Finals, it’s never over,” James said. “So we just keep fighting

until the end.”

The Heat, averaging 114.2 points during their winning streak,

are 16-2 when scoring more than 100. They are 9-0 when James scores

at least 27.

That doesn’t bode well for the Lakers (13-15), who have had

their hands full with James over the years. The four-time NBA MVP

is averaging 29.8 points over his last 13 matchups versus Los

Angeles.

“He’s playing at a very, very high level, gets better every

year, which is scary,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You try to

just contain him as well as you can.”

James totaled 71 points and shot 67.4 percent as Miami swept

last season’s two-game series. The Heat have taken six of seven

from the Lakers dating to March 2010.

Los Angeles has dropped six of nine overall after getting blown

out 117-90 at Phoenix on Monday. The Lakers were held to 37.0

percent shooting and outrebounded 62-39.

Nick Young shot 6 of 17 but finished with a team-high 19 points

off the bench, and Jodie Meeks scored 18. Pau Gasol was limited to

10 on 4-of-12 from the field after missing the previous game due to

an upper respiratory infection.

“Right now Phoenix is a better team than us, especially in the

condition we are in,” D’Antoni said. “We are fighting with a bunch

of good guys that played well before and they will play again. …

We are not going to give up.”

In addition to missing Bryant, the Lakers are dealing with

injuries to Steve Nash (back) and Steve Blake (elbow). Fellow point

guard Jordan Farmar, though, has been cleared to play and is set to

make his first start after missing the last 10 games with hamstring

trouble.

“We need to get some playmaking back in there,” D’Antoni said of

Farmar, who is averaging 9.2 points in 18.9 minutes.

The Lakers could also use a big performance from Gasol, who is

averaging 14.8 points – 3.5 less than his career mark. Los Angeles

is 9-5 when he scores at least 15 compared to 4-9 when he

doesn’t.

Gasol has managed 11 and 12 points in his last two games versus

Miami.

The Heat have won 18 consecutive regular-season matchups against

the Western Conference, including six this season by an average of

14.9 points. Only one of those victories, though, came on the road,

where Miami is averaging 100.0 points compared to 108.1 at

home.

Dwyane Wade could return after sitting out Monday to rest his

knees. Wade is averaging 25.8 points and shooting 60.0 percent over

his last four games.