The NBA's two most recognizable faces are pitted against each other Sunday afternoon, but the Heat will likely run over a Lakers team that has had a really rough season despite winning four of five games.
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant is supposed to be the NBA's biggest showdown, but this isn't a potential NBA Finals match-up like it seemed it could be. The Heat are elite as expected, but the Lakers are struggling to reach .500.
The Heat just continue to get better. They absolutely dismantled the Clippers on Friday night, winning 101-89 against a team that's had a much better year than their crosstown opponents. James has hit 30 points in four-straight games, shooting over 70 percent from the floor in a winning streak for Miami. He's a force driving the ball, passes beautifully, and is an unreal finisher, so its a little bit unfair when he goes out and hits four of five three-point attempts like he did against the Clips. After Friday night's performance, he's shooting 42 percent on the year from downtown - a better percentage than all-time three-point great Ray Allen - so James' one weakness isn't even a weakness anymore. The Heat are "only" 33-14, which doesn't give them the best record in the league, but its hard to imagine any other team coming out of the Eastern Conference to make the NBA Finals.
As for the Lakers, they've been the NBA's funniest sitcom all year long. It seems like they have pieced things together - they've won four of five, a stint which puts them at 24-27, still out of the playoff picture - but there's still drama. Dwight Howard hasn't been playing, and although he suited up on Thursday and Friday, he drew criticism for not playing through pain. And Pau Gasol is out for six weeks with a torn plantar fascia, something that could actually help the Lakers as Gasol has been a drag, forced to the bench under Mike D'Antoni, causing chemistry issues, and playing at career-worst levels. Their hopes of winning solely rest on Kobe, who is averaging 27.4 points, the third-best figure in the NBA - although it's taking him 20.9 shots to do so. This team has been a train wreck for all the hype coming into the season, and even a solid outing would be encouraging at this point.
Considering the vast amounts of airtime devoted to discussing LeBron and Kobe facing off, its interesting to wonder how often the two will get matched up on each other. James is a nightmare to defend, and one has to imagine former all-world defender Metta World Peace will end up facing him. But James is the strongest and longest guy on Miami's defense, so Erik Spoelstra could assign him the duty of defending Bryant.
The Heat won the first matchup between these two this year, which isn't surprising.
Here's the info on the game:
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET