The spotlight has veered far from the two teams that faced off in the 2020 NBA Finals.
As the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat meet for the second time this season on Friday (7:30 AM on NBA TV Philippines), it will be a faint reminder of how the two teams still have a long way to go before they can aspire to cross paths again on the game’s biggest stage.
Last year’s finalists have been through a hurricane of injuries this season, leaving room for discussion about who has what it takes to enter the Finals.
The Brooklyn Nets have retooled into becoming the latest super team, while Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks continue their impressive season, staking their claim as beasts in the East. Over in the Western Conference, the focus has shifted to the rise of the Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns. The LA Clippers have been quietly steady as a top-tier squad and the Denver Nuggets have morphed into a more dangerous contender after the trade deadline.
The Lakers’ bid for a title repeat and the Heat’s chance to avenge that loss have been put in jeopardy. Multiple contenders are gunning for the throne while the vultures are circling on the two hobbled teams.
The Lakers, who are fifth in the West with a 32-19 record, are still without their two stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who both also happen to be two of the top five players in the league today.
The defending champions have been 15-13 since missing Davis and 4-6 without James. Combined, the two stars account for nearly 50 points of the team’s offense. The Lakers have had to rely on their supporting cast’s firepower to stay competitive.
Newly acquired Andre Drummond will be back in action after missing the last three games because of a right big toe contusion. It will be just the second game for the center after his short-lived debut last week.
Meanwhile, the Heat are sixth in the East with a 26-25 card and winners of four straight before losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in their previous game.
After battling health issues for the large part of the season, the Heat took a chance during the trade deadline and picked up Victor Oladipo. Since the trade, the team is 2-1. It will be interesting to see how Miami uses Oladipo for the first time against the Lakers.
The Heat’s core will be in full strength as Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic, and Duncan Robinson will take full advantage of the short-handed Lakers.
Much has changed since the first meeting of the two teams back in February, in which the Heat carved out a two-point win over the Lakers, and more so since their encounter in the Orlando Bubble. Several adversaries have loaded up their rosters with the hopes of taking down last year’s finalists. Friday’s game will hardly look like a Finals preview but it will give a glimpse of where two of the best teams a season ago currently stand.