No team has fallen so far, so fast since the summer of 2012 than the Los Angeles Lakers. Armed with newcomers Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers suffered through an injury-plagued season and watched the league's best big man depart for Houston.
Now, the 16-time NBA champions have limped through another season with a depleted team. Mike D'Antoni didn't even have enough players available Wednesday for a five-on-five scrimmage prior to Thursday night's 8 o'clock matchup with the Miami Heat.
The Lakers will trot out a similar rotation that Miami saw Dec. 25, in these two teams' first meeting. Jordan Farmar is out, though, and December 2013 D-League player Kendall Marshall has emerged as the team's starting point guard by default.
The Heat undoubtedly should defeat this depleted Lakers team at home, with or without Dwyane Wade. But we've just seen Miami lose three straight games and barely escape against the Charlotte Bobcats and Boston Celtics (with Rajon Rondo shooting 0-for-8 and committing three turnovers). Miami will simply have to play with more effort and intensity than it has played with so far this month. And the Heat can't exhale after building a sizable lead.
The Lakers' strategy will mirror their game plan Dec. 25 -- shoot lots of 3s. If Miami plays lackadaisical defense -- as it did in the Christmas Day showdown -- Los Angeles will have a chance. The Heat simply need to close out to open shooters. Moreover, Miami should exploit the Lakers' lack of interior defense. Chris Bosh was able to go on a scoring binge in the second quarter Dec. 25 and finish with 23 points and 11 rebounds because the Heat figured that out. The Heat can go into upcoming marquee games against San Antonio and Oklahoma City with good confidence with a couple wins under their belt.