The Miami Heat's season-long six-game road trip will end with tonight's 10:30 TNT showcase of the defending champions against the Los Angeles Lakers. Pau Gasol will likely play tonight, so this game could feature a battle between the athleticism and quickness of Miami against the size of the Lakers (It should be noted, however, that Jordan Hill is out for the season).
Media members will dissect Kobe Bryant's response to LeBron James when the three-time MVP was asked if the scrutiny the Lakers face today matches that of Miami during the 2010-11 season. James simply answered the question and correctly said that the media storm around the Lakers doesn't come close to what the Heat faced. Bryant retorted, "What does he want, a cookie for that?" The media will blow it out of proportion -- as it already has -- but this game contains significance for both teams. The Heat would like to end the road trip with a .500 record and begin to build a winning streak after some lackadaisical play going back to December. The Lakers have won two straight games after suffering a six-game losing streak and cannot afford many errors the rest of the season as the 11th seed in the Western Conference.
Several teams have simply dominated Miami on the glass recently -- Chicago, Indiana and Utah since the new year began. Dwight Howard has grabbed at least 14 boards in six straight games, and Chris Bosh cannot afford to give up 10 rebounds to the opposing center before he has one. The Heat will need everyone to crash the boards, though, and Miami did a good job of that against the Golden State Warriors Wednesday. Miami can win if it simply emulates its performance last night. In addition to Dwyane Wade and James fighting for rebounds, the Heat forced 21 Golden State turnovers and scored 22 points in transition. If Miami can force Steve Nash and others into some live-ball turnovers, the Heat will be able to complete more spectacular alley-oops.
Miami recalled Dexter Pittman from the D-League yesterday, and he is expected to be available for tonight's game. Roy Hibbert managed to dominate Pittman during last year's playoffs, so it would be unwise for the Heat to expect anything more than fouls from Pittman. Miami will likely show Howard a lot of double-teams with Bosh or Joel Anthony as the primary defender, leaving Metta World Peace open. If Miami can force Laker turnovers and neutralize Howard, the Heat should have little trouble winning tonight to end its road trip with a 3-3 record.