HEAT 109, LAKERS 102

Absence of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade takes luster off Heat-Lakers matchup

 
 
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant during the fourth quarter of the game against the Miami Heat at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, January 23, 2014.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant during the fourth quarter of the game against the Miami Heat at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, January 23, 2014.
David Santiago / El Nuevo Staff

jwalfish@miamiherald.com

Since the Big 3 was formed in the summer of 2010, a matchup between the Lakers and Heat has had some hype around it.

It was scheduled as the marquee game this past Christmas, but it lacked a little bit of luster despite a competitive game. It was billed as a matchup between Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players of the past decade, and LeBron James, arguably the greatest player currently in the NBA.

Yet when Los Angeles visited Miami on Thursday the contest lacked two of the game’s biggest stars, Bryant and Heat guard Dwyane Wade. James said he misses not getting a chance to go head-to-head with Bryant and admitted the game loses that story line, but he said the game does not mean any less than if Bryant were playing.

“Obviously, I wish Kobe was in the lineup because I love going against one of the greatest competitors and one of the greatest players to ever play this game,” he said before the game. “In the sense of a one-on-one matchup, it loses that, but it loses no intensity.

“The more guys that are out against us, the more dangerous teams are against us.”

The absence of Bryant and Wade was the story line entering the game and has been a common theme across the league. Injuries have hit some of the biggest stars in the game this season, taking them out for extended periods of time.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said it has been tough reading injury reports and seeing who has missed time for their teams.

“You look around the league and you cringe when you see guys that aren’t playing,” Spoelestra said Thursday morning. “We certainly would have liked to have seen him and quite a few other guys out there playing.”

The rash of injuries around the league also highlights how big of a luxury Miami has with its depth. The Lakers have limped to a 14-22 record without Bryant in the lineup and are on pace for their first losing season since 2004-05. Meanwhile, the Heat was 25-5 without Wade in their two title years and moved to 7-6 without him this season.

Chris Bosh said the team has to change its sets and plays without Wade, and he has also had to adjust his playing style. He said he has had to become more of a creator in the offense because Wade did so much to create opportunities for him.

So it was only fitting that with injured superstars dominating the headlines before the game, the two healthy superstars shined the brightest on the court Thursday night. Bosh had a game-high 31 points to pace Miami, and James was right behind him with 27 points and 13 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season.

“Chris has been critical to our execution since we put this team together because he has this great understanding of when to be aggressive and when to facilitate,” Spoelstra said after the game. “His efficiency [on Thursday] is a product of … him being aggressive where he feels the game where he can be aggressive.”

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