Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat: Two Teams, Two Different Directions

You have to hand it to the powers-that-be of NBA; they put all of their eggs in the Heat and the Lakers' basket this season and, so far, it has paid off handsomely.

The drama of these franchises have been the backbone of a compelling 2010-2011 NBA season.

Their showdown this upcoming Thursday finds the Lakers and the Heat in two decidedly different states of mind, especially when contrasted with their prior meet-up on Christmas.

At that point, the Heat had won nine of their last 10 while the Lakers were victorious in eight of their last 10. With both teams primarily taking care of business against lesser opponents, the game held the promise of being a measuring stick for both squads, as well as a potential NBA Finals preview (also David Stern's dream matchup).

That game ended with a sluggish Lakers team getting thoroughly outworked in front of their astonished home crowd by a faster and more focused Heat team. The Lakers looked tired, confused and uncertain while the Heat looked confident and capable of winning it all.

But now, the shoe is on the other foot: While the Lakers are coming together, the Heat are coming apart at the seams; while the Lakers look like a well-oiled playoff machine, the Heat are misfiring or not starting up at all.

Their are two main reasons why the Lakers are undefeated since the All-Star break: They are exploiting their matchup advantages and they are working hard both individually and as a team. These two elements of their game had previously been sporadic at best. 

The Christmas showdown was a key example of this, as the Lakers were doomed by slow defensive rotations and a heavy diet of screen-and-rolls. The Lakers big men never got into the rhythm of the game, thus one of their main advantages was successfully neutralized by the Heat.

But since the All-Star break, the Heat have been ...

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