OAKLAND, Calif. – Dwyane Wade figures that the heralded yet struggling Los Angeles Lakers are going to have a breakthrough game soon.
He's just hoping it's not Thursday night against the Miami Heat.
[Infographic: Measuring the Lakers with the defending champion Heat]
"As a fan of the game ... there have been a couple games that I said, 'If they get this win it can turn their season around.' They weren't able to capitalize on the ones that I thought," Wade said after a 92-75 win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. "But obviously, if they get a win against us it's a great win. If we get a loss versus them we understand that's a tough team. We know it.”
Thursday’s showdown in Los Angeles doesn't have the major anticipation that was expected entering the season after the Lakers acquired two of the NBA's biggest stars in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. After starting the season with championship aspirations, the Lakers (17-21) are just hoping to get back in playoff position. Los Angeles, which has struggled with injuries this season but has won two straight, is expected to get forward-center Pau Gasol (concussion) back against Miami.
"Our job is to go out there and try to play our best and not worry about what struggles they've been through and who's in the lineup,” Wade said. “You got to continue to try to get better as the Miami Heat because we have a lot of work to do as well."
The Heat (25-12) also had its struggles during the 2010-11 season when LeBron James and Chris Bosh first joined Wade. Miami started 9-8 but finished the regular season with a 58-24 mark before eventually losing in the NBA Finals. But Miami's sluggish start from two seasons ago is nothing compared to what the Lakers have gone through this season.
"I am surprised just like everyone else in the sense of how much talent they have," James said. "I'm not surprised in some of the struggles. We had struggles, too, in Year One. You can't force or fast-track camaraderie and guys coming together.
"It's a team game and you have to work through a lot of things before a team becomes a team. And we went through that as well."
The Heat entered Wednesday night's game with heat on, too, after losing three of their previous four games. Wade and Bosh were benched at the end of a 104-97 loss at Utah on Monday night. The arrival of Heat president Pat Riley to the Bay Area brought some alarm, but he had previously planned on attending the Warriors and Lakers games.
Miami caught a big break Wednesday as Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, averaging team-highs of 20.5 points and 6.6 assists, was sidelined after spraining his right ankle during the morning shoot around. With Curry donning a suit on the bench, the Heat was up 80-50 at the end of the third quarter. Miami's starting five should be a little rested for the Lakers after sitting the entire fourth quarter.
"We just came out from the opening tip with a sense of urgency," said James, who had 25 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes, said. "We didn't wait around. We came out with a defensive mindset and got stops early, and the offense took care of itself."
Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "It was good to see our guys come back after that tough loss in Utah. We still have a tough game ahead of us and we're going to try and get out of here as quick as we can, move on from [Golden State] on to L.A. where they've been waiting on us."
James also reached a major milestone against the Warriors, becoming the youngest NBA player to reach 20,000 career points. The nine-year NBA veteran accomplished the feat at 28 years, 17 days old. The Heat celebrated James' record in the locker room after the game by playfully punching him.
"It means everything, it means a lot," James said of the accomplishment. "First of all, like I can continue to say, it means I've been able to be healthy. To be out on the floor and to be able to do what I love to do &hellip I love the game of basketball. I try to give everything back to the game and hopefully it continues to be able to give back to me."
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