On a night when one of the most dominant big men of all time will get immortalized in Miami, the Lakers will be without three of their own frontcourt players. Larry Nance, Jr. and Tarik Black are out with injuries and Julius Randle has flown back to Los Angeles to be with his fiancée as she gets ready to give birth to their first child.
Meanwhile, the shorthanded Lakers will visit the Heat, looking to get back to the winning ways from the beginning of the season. They’ll be doing so in front of one of the winningest players in Lakers and Heat history as Shaquille O’Neal will have his jersey retired by the Heat organization.
LA will need other players to step up with so many notable absences. Luol Deng will start at the four, according to Coach Luke Walton, while Brandon Ingram gets the start at small forward. Ingram’s inclusion into that unit should make up for the lack of playmaking with Randle out.
Deng has played much better recently amidst criticism for his contract and early play. He will have the opportunity to continue his good stretch of basketball against the team he played for last season, while primarily playing at his better position.
The Lakers will likely also look for contributions from seldom-used big men Thomas Robinson and Ivica Zubac, who could get fairly significant minutes to showcase their own abilities.
With so many players missing, the Lakers will rely a lot on their “star” players. D’Angelo Russell will have to run the offense efficiently while also providing the scoring punch we know he is capable of giving. Lou Williams and Nick Young will have to do what they have done all year: score often and efficiently.
Defensively, the Lakers will have an opportunity to be better than they have been all year. Miami does not feature too many weapons. If Russell and co. can slow down Goran Dragic at the point of attack, they will have an opportunity to win this game.
Hassan Whiteside is not a go-to player and relies on the guards to create his shots for him. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson are talented, young players but are not consistent forces just yet. Justise Winslow is a force defensively but lacks a lot on the other end.
If the Lakers play one of their better games defensively, they should be able to put themselves in a position to win this game. They’ll be aided by the Heat offense.