MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat will face arguably its toughest challenge of the young NBA season Thursday night when Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers come to the AmericanAirlines Arena.
The game will feature the NBA’s top two scorers in Bryant and Heat forward LeBron James, possibly.
LeBron was sent home from the Heat’s shoot around this morning with flu-like symptoms, according to CBS4 sports director Leo Gomez. LeBron is listed as a game-time decision for the game.
If LeBron can’t go for the Heat tonight, which is probably not the case; he would join shooting guard Dwyane Wade on the bench. Wade has been trying to rehab a sprained ankle and foot problem for much of the last two weeks.
Without LeBron in the lineup, the Heat would lose much of their scoring and rebounding punch.
LeBron is second in the league in scoring, putting in 29.8 points per game. He’s shooting close to 60 percent from the field and handing out nearly 8 assists and grabbing 8 rebounds per game.
But, the Heat has played without LeBron and Wade once before this year. Of course there’s a world of difference between the Atlanta Hawks and a Kobe Bryant Lakers team.
If LeBron is in the lineup tonight, he along with Shane Battier and Mike Miller will all likely spend time trying to keep Kobe from killing the Heat.
If LeBron is out, then it will likely be a healthy dose of Battier facing off with Kobe.
The bigger issue facing the Heat for the Lakers game will be how the team guards the Lakers twin towers of center Andrew Bynum and power forward Pau Gasol.
Both Bynum and Gasol are seven-feet-tall and both have showed a good scoring presence down low for the Lakers.
Heat power forward Chris Bosh, along with Udonis Haslem, are likely to draw the assignment of trying to shut Gasol down.
The Heat will have a bigger problem with Bynum, simply because the Heat’ starting center Joel Anthony will be undersized against Bynum.
It could open the door for more playing time for 6’11” center Dexter Pittman, or possibly Eddy Curry.
Curry hasn’t played thus far for the Heat. He’s seven-feet-tall and has a history of scoring in double-digits per game.
But, he let his weight and conditioning get out of control until early in 2011 when he finally started to train again.
The big enigma has managed to drop 100 pounds off his frame and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said it’s possible that Curry could earn some playing time Thursday night or in the next couple of games.
For his part, Curry spent an extra hour at the team’s facility Wednesday afternoon working on the pick-and-roll, which is an NBA offensive staple.
Still, the way to beat the Lakers is to at least slow-down Kobe. He’s scored more than 40 points in multiple games this season, and even without LeBron and Wade, he’d love to knock off the Heat at home on national television.
As for LeBron, it’s likely that if he can possibly play in the Lakers game, he will.
Kobe has taken some veiled shots at LeBron and Wade about not being clutch and given how LeBron’s game has been as of late; it could be quite a shootout at the AAA Thursday night.