Updated: January 4, 2013, 5:13 PM ET

Lakers' Time Is Now Or Never

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com.

The Los Angeles Lakers have arrived at the make-or-break juncture of the season, and if the schedule and standings weren't daunting enough, the Lakers also must contend with time and the fundamentals of physics.

First, the facts. The Lakers (15-16) play the Clippers on Friday, the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, back-to-back games in Houston and San Antonio next Tuesday and Wednesday and a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder next Friday. Five games in eight days against five teams on track to qualify for the playoffs. If we're going to take them seriously as contenders, the Lakers need to go 4-1. Normally, a 3-2 record in this challenging period would be encouraging; in this case, that would leave them at .500 for the season. That won't cut it.

"It's a big stretch for us," Kobe Bryant said. "We've got to turn things around. At this stage of the year, going against these top teams, it's a tough stretch … but it's a chance to see what we're made of."

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Miami Heat: What's Their Motivation?

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

Over the past few weeks, LeBron James has slowly been becoming perturbed about the Miami Heat's overall effort level.

It has manifested itself in several ways: A postgame workout session he used, rather transparently, to set an example to teammates; a handful of statements in which he liberally used the word "urgency"; and some recent body language that has reeked of disappointment during lackadaisical stretches against what should be inferior opposition.

But here is the reality: Why should the Heat care all that much about playing well now?

Their motivation to play their best basketball is lacking and it is hard to fault them. The Eastern Conference is shaping up to be the weakest it has been in a decade. Although it's never easy to repeat as champion, there's no mistaking that the Heat's road back to the Finals this season could provide less resistance than in the past two seasons.

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