The Miami HEAT host the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night in the first of two regular season matchups. The Lakers enter with a record of 10-5, including victories in six of their last seven games. The Lakers are led by Kobe Bryant, who leads the NBA in scoring at 30.8 points per game. Bryant had a streak of four consecutive 40-point games stopped Monday night in a victory over the Dallas Mavericks, in which he scored 14 points.
The HEAT come into Thursday nights game on the heels of a big victory over the San Antonio Spurs. The HEAT overcame a 14-point halftime deficit Tuesday night on the way to a 120-98 win. LeBron James leads the HEAT in scoring, and is second in the NBA to Bryant, with 29.8 points per game.
Tuesday nights victory over the Spurs was sparked by a second-half offensive explosion that produced an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 159.55. The HEATs offensive rating of 131.9 for the whole game was the highest mark of the season. It marked a return to above average offensive efficiency (league average is 99.9), something that occurred just twice during the five-game road trip.
The HEAT currently have the fourth most efficient offense in the NBA according to SynergySports. The HEAT thrive in transition, isolations, post-ups and in pick and roll ball handler situations, ranking in the top six in the NBA in points per possession. The Los Angeles Lakers will provide a stiff test, as they rank fourth overall in total defense. When the HEAT have the ball, it will largely be a battle of strength on strength. The Lakers excel at defending isolations and post-ups, plays which account for 23.7% of the HEATs offense.
The Lakers do struggle defending the pick and roll, an advantage that the HEAT will attempt to exploit. LeBron James ranks sixth in the NBA in pick and roll situations, producing 1.073 points per possession. James has gone to the pick and roll on 29.7% of his possessions so far this season. Mario Chalmers has been extremely efficient as well in the pick and roll, producing 1.091 points per possession, good for fifth in the NBA.
On the defensive end, the Miami HEAT face a Lakers team that has not matched its offensive prowess from past seasons. The Lakers rank 18th in points per possession at .888, which is a significant drop off from the .965 mark of last season. The biggest decline can be seen in the Lakers spot-up shooting and performance in isolations. The Lakers are currently shooting a league-worst 25% from three-point range. Poor shooting by returning players, injuries, and offseason departures have hindered the Lakers ability to space the floor. The same can be seen in isolation situations, where the Lakers have plummeted from fourth in isolation offense to twenty-seventh.
The Lakers offense does boast the top post-up offense in the league. Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant lead the Lakers in post touches, and all three excel in these situations. The Gasol-Bynum tandem is bigger and more athletic than any other frontline in the NBA. Their distinct size advantage allows them to dominate other power forwards and centers. Of players with at least 40 post possessions, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum rank first, third and seventeenth respectively.
The HEATs lone true weakness on the defensive end has been defending spot-up opportunities. Opposing teams have an adjusted field goal percentage (applies extra weight to three-pointers) of 53.3% when spotting up, which is the second highest mark in the league. The HEATs biggest strength is its post-up defense, which should come in handy against Bryant, Gasol and Bynum. Limiting the Lakers effectiveness in the post will be key for the HEAT in Thursday nights matchup.
The Miami HEAT defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in both head-to-head meetings last season on the strength of their defense. In both games the HEAT held the Lakers below their own, and league-wide, average offensive output.