Lakers (17-21) vs. Miami Heat (25-12)
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Staples Center
Finally, the moment of truth.
Have the Lakers solved their season-wide problems? Or is the team's two-game winning streak as fleeting as a mindless summer action movie?
The Lakers will have better answers once they play the Heat, the NBA's defending champions.
"It could be a step forward tonight if we continue to have the same activity level defensively and the energy the team brought the last two games," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "I think that could be a great step forward if we're able to win tonight against Miami."
Well, the Lakers will again wonder if they can beat elite opponents, consistently secure their home court and make the NBA playoffs.
The Lakers haven't had a proven track record so far.
They have two signature wins against Golden State and New York. The Lakers have only a 12-9 home record, an impressive stat only compared to their 5-12 road record. They're currently in 11th place in the Western Conference, trailing the Houston Rockets (21-19) by three games for the eighth and final playoff spot.
It helps that it is mid-January and that other teams have gone through recent losing streaks, including Houston
(five), Portland (four) and Minnesota (four). But the Lakers admittedly are unsure where they stand.
After all, the Lakers won six of their first seven games with Steve Nash in the lineup only to lose their next six.
Would a win against the Heat boost the Lakers' confidence?
"I do think that will help, but that's mostly of the confidence about the fans and everybody else," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said." You're talking about Kobe Bryant. I think he's pretty confident. Pau, Dwight (Howard) and Steve are confident guys and know they can get this done. It'll be great to be able to boost everybody else's confidence."
The Lakers will have their hands full.
After missing the past five games because of a concussion, Gasol will come off the bench. Meanwhile, Lakers forward Earl Clark will make his fourth consecutive start and match up with Miami forward Chris Bosh. In hopes to add spark to the Lakers' defense, Bryant will mostly guard Dwyane Wade while Metta World Peace defends LeBron James, who just eclipsed Bryant as the youngest player to score 20,000 points.
The Heat have only gone 4-4 in January, perhaps a product of the defending champions having a midseason lull. The Lakers in years past could relate.
Miami also is entering tonight's game on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Golden State Warriors by double digit points.
But the Heat rank fourth in total offense (102.14 points per game). Miami has versatility (James), speed (Wade), post moves (Bosh) and outside shooting (Ray Allen).
"It's not the end of the world if it doesn't work out. It's always a test against the champions," D'Antoni said. "We'll use it to dig down deeper or be sprung forward. One or the other. We'll spin someway to our benefit."
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