Battle for South Beach: Miami Heat Host Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant go toe-to-toe as the Miami Heat host the Los Angeles Lakers.

Even without Dwayne Wade in the line-up for the Miami Heat (9-4, 4-1 home), tonight’s clash with the visiting Los Angeles Lakers (10-5, 1-4 away) will be a star-studded event that any sports fan should be getting into, and certainly a great match-up for online sportsbook betting at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewedhere at CR. With the league’s top two scorers in LeBron James and Kobe Bryant set to square off against one another, get ready for a competitive match-up in a great atmosphere for what could possibly be a preview of this year’s NBA championship series.

The Los Angeles Lakers will turn once again to their leader Kobe Bryant (30.8 points, 5.5 assists, 5.7 rebounds/game) in this match-up, as he’s been instrumental this season in getting the Lakers out to a great start, but needs to be at the forefront of a better shooting performance on the road if the Lakers are to overcome the mighty Heat on their home court. While LA has played very well at home, winning 9 straight games at Staples Center since dropping the season-opener to Chicago, they haven’t been able to get things going in road games, averaging 91.6 points per contest. What’s especially troubling is that they’re dead last in the league in road 3-pt shooting, making just 19.7 percent of their shots from beyond the arc while being the visiting side. Though they aren’t much better at home (2nd to last in the NBA at 27.4 percent), that difference appears to be one of the key areas that is preventing the Lakers from squeezing out close games, especially against teams that are stacked up in the paint and good at pressuring outside shooting. While the Lakers will get a break by not having to match-up against Dwayne Wade and his 19.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, they will have to contend with big man Eddy Curry (13.3 points, 5.3 rebounds/game), who will add size in the paint and force more outside shooting tonight (provided of course he’s able to play substantial minutes, which is still up in the air due to a lingering hip injury). Nonetheless, with Wade out, LeBron James suffering from flu symptoms and a big-man making a debut, the Lakers have a perfect opportunity to walk away with a rare road win if they can get their shooting together tonight.

Miami meanwhile has been absolutely devastating at home around the perimeter, hitting 51.9 percent of their 3-pointers at home (6.8 percent better than anyone else in the league), and are starting to see good contributions outside of the Big Three consisting of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Starting point guard Mario Chalmers (12 points, 4.2 assists, %45.8 3-pt shooting) and back-up Norris Cole (22 minutes, 9.7 points, 3.2 assists/contest) have both been playing well around the perimeter, and will have to continue to contribute tonight in the absence of Wade. However, what may be even more important for the Heat in tonight’s game is the defensive assignment of limiting Kobe Bryant, who has been torching teams for north of 40 points in 4 of his last 5 outings. While LeBron James has continued to own Kobe in head-to-head match-ups (his teams are 9-2 when the two stars line up), the Heat have to force Bryant to the perimeter, and avoid letting him get close jump shots in range. We’ve seen that lingering issues to his right wrist have affected his shooting from outside, so keeping him away from the basket is critical, especially due to the fact that he’s playing under peak conditioning for the first time in over two years, thanks to the lockout. Putting big, agile bodies on Bryant tonight is essential for the Heat, which should equate to seeing more minutes from veteran Shane Battier, James Jones, and even the oft-injured Mike Miller. Miller’s first game of the year on Tuesday against San Antonio was certainly promising (18 points, 6-6 from 3-pt range), and while increased scoring from these three would definitely benefit the Miami bottom line, it’s perhaps even more important that they limit Kobe Bryant’s efforts, as the Lakers have only lost once when Kobe goes for 31 points or more, and are 1-4 when he gets 30 points or less.

For the Lakers on offense, they’ll need to also get contributions from their periphery in order to overcome a hot-shooting Miami team at home that is averaging an absurd 114.8 points (1st in the NBA by almost 10 points a game over 2nd place Denver) on home court. While defense is critical, and not having the scoring threat of D. Wade on the court is a big plus, the Lakers have to get step-up performances from big men Andrew Bynum (16.5 points, 10 rebounds/game) and Pau Gasol (15.9 points, 7.2 boards), but also from Ron Artest (seriously not calling him Metta World Peace, don’t care) and Matt Barnes. The Lakers aren’t nearly as deep in scoring this year as they have been in the past, and definitely have missed Lamar Odom’s presence as a bridge bench scoring, so seeing increased efforts from those players who are putting in north of 20 minutes per game but aren’t contributing consistently would go a long way towards a Lakers win tonight. Derek Fisher (25.1 minutes, 4.9 points, 4.6 assists) and Artest (20.4 minutes 5.4 points, 2.7 rebounds) definitely need to be putting up more points in tonight’s contest for the Lakers to keep pace, as without veteran scoring all-around, the Lakers may become too hedged on Kobe to pull them through the game, and will wind up falling short against a very high-scoring Heat team.

Betting Lines for Miami Heat vs. Los Angeles Lakers at TopBet Sportsbook

The Miami Heat, despite the absence of Dwayne Wade and uncertainty around the health of LeBron James, still come into this match-up on home court as the favorite, with -240 odds to win on the money line, and -5.5 points to cover against the spread. The visiting Lakers come in at +200 odds as underdog and get 5.5 points to play with on the spread at -110 odds, which could be tantalizing for those banking that the absence of Wade for the Heat could give the Lakers enough of an edge to overcome on the road for just the 2nd time in 6 away games. Though the Lakers haven’t scored as well on the road, the fact that Miami is raining points at home should bode well for the possibility of a break out from the 191 points on the over/under; also make note that Miami is 5th worst in the league allowing 99.2 points at home to opposing teams, which could also loom large for a breakthrough of the over total points mark.

Our Pick to Win:

I like the fact that Los Angeles has an advantage with Dwayne Wade out for the Miami Heat tonight, and I also like the fact that despite their losing efforts on the road this year, the Lakers are still holding opponents to just 40.9 percent shooting from the floor (2nd best in the NBA), which could put a lot of pressure on a less-than-healthy LeBron James to try and do everything himself this evening. The one concern for Lakers pickers however, is whether they can hang with the Heat should they put up anywhere close to their home average of 114-plus points, especially when LA is only averaging just over 91 points per road game. For Los Angeles to win, they simply must push the ball inside, pass the ball well to set up short jumpers for Kobe Bryant, and get better efforts from their veterans on the offensive side of the ball. For Miami, keeping Bryant under 30 points is critical, as he’s a catalyst for scoring for the rest of the Lakers on offense, but so too is getting scoring from the periphery, especially with D. Wade out of action. At the end of the 4th quarter buzzer, I like the Lakers to give the Heat a tight game, covering points given to them against the spread, but I’m not fully sold on whether the Lakers can compete for a full 4 quarters on the road even with some help. Cautiously, I’ll take the Heat to prevail at home 100-96, but wouldn’t be surprised to see Los Angeles squeeze out an underdog victory if Kobe reaches the crucial 31 point mark tonight.

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