The Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers square off in a rematch of the 2020 NBA Finals, which the defending champions won 4-2.
Even though the Heat and the Lakers were two of the favorites to reach the Finals again, according to NBA betting odds, things have been completely different.
Miami has struggled since the start of the season and has not managed to enter the Top-8 of the Eastern Conference.
The Heat are currently 10th in the standings, with a 12-17 record, 1.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Charlotte Hornets (13-15).
Given the injuries and Covid-related issues the team faced eary in the season, the Heat are still trying to find their chemistry on both ends.
However, they will be short-handed against the Lakers on Saturday night, with four players being out with injuries.
Miami is coming off an 118-110 win over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday, snapping a three-game losing streak.
On the other hand, the Lakers have played much better early in the season and currently sit second in the Western Conference, with a 22-8 record.
The defending champions want to bounce back from their 98-109 home loss to fellow NBA title contender Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.
Without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, the Lakers struggled on both ends and suffered a painful loss to the Nets.
Davis (calf strain, out 4 weeks) and Schroder (NBA Health and Safety protocols, no timetable for his return) will miss significant time, therefore, the Lakers have to change their plan and adapt to this situation.
The two stars combine for almost 37 points per game, as Davis is averaging 22.5 points and Schroder 14.2, respectively.
With that in mind, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel will need to re-distribute the roles, with Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris having more playing time on the floor.
In the first game without Davis and Schroder, the Lakers scored 14 points less than their offensive productivity this season (112.4) and that cost them the win.
If the defending champions come close to 115 points, they will have the upper hand in the game.
Vogel will also rely on the plethora of on-ball defenders he has, as the team has the best defensive rating in the NBA (105.6 points per 100 possessions).
On the contrary, the return of Jimmy Butler has helped the Heat get back to playoff contention.
Miami has gone 6-5 since Butler returned to the lineup. The explosive guard/forward is averaging 19.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 1.9 steals in February.
Butler will have a leading role against the Lakers, with Bam Adebayo (19.8 points, on 56.9% shooting, 9.3 boards and 5.5 assists) as the supporting cast.
Miami will need plenty of help from sharpshooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, as Dragic (17 games played this season) and Avery Bradley (just 10 games) remain out.
The Lakers are better in most statistical categories, with the Heat dishing more assists (25.9 to 24.8) and having a higher free-throw percentage (78.8 to 75).
“Nothing much is going to go through my head. With all due respect, I haven’t seen too much of the Heat this year. But we’re a brand new team and they’re a brand new team too, just from a bird’s eye view of everything.
Obviously both teams have some of the same components and some of the same variables as players, but for the most part it’s new guys playing in the rotation,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said about the Heat, via Silver Screen and Roll.
Miami is 5-10 on the road and 6-9 against the spread away from home, while they have gone over the total in their last three games.
For their part, the Lakers are 9-5 at home and 5-9 against the spread at home, having lost three times to Eastern Conference teams at Staples Center this season (7-3).
Overall, the Heat and the Lakers are set for a tough rematch of the 2020 NBA Finals, as both teams fight to gain momentum.
Given their home record, take the defending champions to win this one at Staples Center.