Heat @ Lakers
The marquee matchup of the day! The off season’s most hyped team travels to Los Angeles to due battle with the two-time defending world champs. The Heat have been red-hot since slumping to start the season and are an impressive 12-1 in the month of December. The Lakers are finally back to full strength with center Andrew Bynum healthy and are currently 8-3 in the month of December.
This games features the three best players in the league (Bryant, James, and Wade). Lebron James and Kobe Bryant have won the last three Most Valuable Player awards. Expect both players to be on their A game on Christmas night in front of a national audience. Lebron, especially, will try to show America that his off-season decision to leave Cleveland was the right choice. Whether or not the fans will ever buy that is up for another discussion.
When the Lakers have the ball look for them to try to get Pau Gasol involved early. I believe that Phil Jackson is going to try to attack Chris Bosh in hopes of landing him in early foul trouble. If Bosh gets in foul trouble, the Heat will struggle to contain the Lakers bigs of Gasol and Bynum.
This marks the Lakers 12th consecutive Christmas day game at Staples center. During those games, the one constant has been Kobe Bryant. Bryant has typically shined on Christmas day. In that 12 game span, he has averaged 25.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 5.7 APG. Look for Kobe to try to prove he is still the best player in the league on Christmas.
The Heat will likely turn to Wade and James to provide the majority of their production. My guess is that Kobe Bryant will be assigned to Wade, and Ron Artest will draw Lebron. Although Artest is still an excellent perimeter defender, he has trouble containing Lebron. In Lebron’s two match ups against Artest last year, he averaged 31.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 9 APG. In other words, Lebron typically does what he wants when Artest is defending him.
Although a lot of attention will be paid to the Bryant vs Wade and James vs Artest match ups, the key to the game will be Gasol vs Bosh. Bosh can’t get into early foul trouble in this one. He is the only player for the Heat who can contain Gasol in the post. Unfortunately, I foresee Bosh picking up a couple of cheap fouls to start the game. If this happens, keep an eye on how this affects the Heat’s defensive strategy. They will likely have to double team Gasol if Bosh is off the court. This will lead to wide open looks for the Lakers perimeter players.
This has the makings of an instant classic and I believe the Lakers will hold off the Heat in what should be a back and forth contest.
Prediction- Lakers 96 Heat 95