The answer is almost certainly "some combination of the above," but how James chooses to use his touches -- particularly against Ron Artest, who loves nothing more than the task of defending James one-on-one -- will dictate what kind of offensive flow the Heat establish against the Lakers.
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LeBron vs. Ron could tip the scales one way
or the other.
How Artest performs and the body language exhibited will be fascinating to watch and potentially game-changing.
In a perfect world, James' collection of highlights will look something like this 363-day-old montage
-- aggressive moves to the basket, early posts and seals down low and, above all, smart movement off the ball. For whatever reason, James has been slow to embrace these parts of his game this season. Christmas Day would be a nice moment for him to return to those mainstays.
With that in mind, Heat 97, Lakers 93.
The Lakers certainly have the advantage inside, with Gasol, Bynum and Odom matched up against Chris Bosh and Miami's menagerie of centers. Kobe is masterful in the post, even against bigger guards like Wade. If the Lakers can get the ball down low, there's a very good chance they do damage.
Except it may not be that easy. After Tuesday's loss against Milwaukee, Derek Fisher was asked why the Lakers seemed to get away from the post offensively as the game went on. His answer? The Bucks made it tough to get the ball down low. Milwaukee isn't a bad defensive team by any stretch, but it's not Miami. And lesser squads have effectively packed the paint, praying on the team's inherent impatience when it comes to running the offense.
The Heat are extremely effective on the perimeter, pressuring the ball and interrupting passing lanes. They're among the NBA's leaders in fewest paint points allowed as a result. Led by Wade and LeBron, the Heat have a great deal of length and speed on the outside able to gum up the works of even the most efficient offenses.
As for a prediction, I always tend to lean toward L.A., all things being equal, because when the Lakers are on their floor and playing at their best, they should beat any team they see. Of course, they haven't been at their best this season, and have a terrible track record on Christmas. I'll still say they pull out the game in a squeaker, and help erase the bad taste of last year against Cleveland. 97-93, Lakers.
Despite all of the perimeter star power that will be on display at Staples Center on Christmas Day, the matchup that might most decide the outcome will be in the post, between Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh. We know that Gasol will do most of his work within 12 feet of the basket, and give the Lakers a true inside-outside punch to complement Kobe Bryant. It will be critical for Bosh to do the same for the Heat.
At times, Bosh has been reluctant to truly get his hands dirty inside the painted area. If Bosh shows up Saturday as the player who routinely fades his game out to 18 feet from the basket and settles for jumpers, it will be a long night for the Heat, regardless of what they get from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But if Miami gets the Bosh who takes the "soft" label personally and gets offended -- and takes his game inside and puts pressure on Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to defend his dynamic arsenal of up-and-under moves -- then the Heat might just neutralize the Lakers' size advantage in the post.
At the end of the day, the Lakers have two great advantages in their favor that should contribute to a victory. They've essentially got four days to prepare for the Heat, and they'll be at home. Miami faces the Lakers less than 48 hours after Thursday's game against the Suns.
Lakers 108, Heat 104