Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) goes up for a dunk ahead of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24), guard Steve Nash (10) and forward Metta World Peace (15) during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, in Los Angeles. Miami won 99-90. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
The Los Angeles Lakers are in South Florida to take on LeBron James and the Miami Heat on Sunday. For the Lakers to pull off an unlikely win, they require a big performance from Dwight Howard.
After Pau Gasol suffered a long-term injury, Kobe Bryant publicly asked Howard to play through pain. It may have taken Howard a game and a half, but he finally resembled a defensive monster in the second half against Charlotte. Howard’s activity helped the Lakers erase a 20-point second half deficit.
While the Lakers struggled against the worst team in the NBA on Friday, the Heat cruised against the Clippers. The league’s reigning Most Valuable Player only missed two shots en route to 30 points, six assists, and five rebounds against Chris Paul and company. With his team up by 25 points after three quarters, James did not play a single minute of the final quarter.
The Lakers have experienced injuries all season long, but they do not have the luxury of making excuses for losses at this point. LA is still three and a half games out of the playoffs despite winning seven of their last nine games. LA’s super team is barely treading water at three games below .500.
Meanwhile, Miami’s super team is cutting through the water on a Miami Vice speed boat. LeBron's team has the best record in the Eastern Conference, and a return to the NBA Finals appears to be a mere formality at this point in the season. James and the Miami Heat have won four games in a row ahead of the Lakers’ arrival in South Beach.
The road win against the Warriors was an overtime shootout where Bryant scored 34 points and Steve Nash returned to score 12 points and pass nine assists. Howard fouled out with 11 points and six rebounds. Against Golden State, five Lakers scored more points than Howard and four teammates pulled down more rebounds than the Lakers’ center.
Against Brooklyn, Howard did not even play.
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers may have two signature road-wins, but Dwight Howard and the Lakers do not have any. With Gasol out for the foreseeable future, Sunday afternoon in Miami offers the perfect opportunity to change that. The Lakers need a big game out of Howard to have any chance against the Heat.
Tip-off in Miami is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time.