There will be no shortage of storylines when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Miami Heat on Sunday at Staples Center.
The game will be shown on ABC in the U.S. starting at 3:30 Eastern time, 12:30 Pacific. The game can be seen online on this link: http://all-live-sports-online-stream.blogspot.com/2012/03/miami-heat-vs-los-angeles-lakers-live.html
The Heat may be playing without Chris Bosh, who missed the last two games due to a death in the family. The Heat forward is the most important big man on Miami, and his role will be to contain Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Then there's the issue of Kobe Bryant, who wore a mask in the Lakers' victory over Sacramento on Friday. The mask didn't seem to bother him too much, as the superstar guard dropped 38 points on the Kings.
Bryant skipped practice Saturday due to neck treatment, based on whiplash symptoms after suffering a harsh foul to his nose by the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade in last weekend's NBA All-Star game. Bryant suffered a concussion in the game, but there doesn't appear to be hard feeling between the two elite guards, and the Heat guard spoke highly of Bryant in recent days.
My favorite matchup is to go against Kobe, Wade recently said. It used to be Kobe and LeBron [James], and now he's my teammate. When I get that challenge, guarding a guy like [Bryant], I'm always learning, but I'm always up for it, so I enjoy it.
Though Wade has done his part to diffuse the situation with Bryant, the Lakers have their share of enforcers, and the officials will likely call the game very tightly to avoid probable retaliation against Wade.
While many eyes will be on Wade and Bryant, there remains the long-running debate of who is better is: Bryant or LeBron James.
In the Heat's last game, James had the chance to lift the Heat to victory, but instead laid it off to Udonis Haslem, who failed to hit the game-winning shot as the Utah Jazz came away with the win.
James's reluctance to shoot the clutch shot has been what many critics believe separates Bryant from James. The Lakers guard relishes the opportunity to have the fate of the game rest on his shoulders, but James appears to not want the responsibility.
The two teams met on Jan. 19 in Miami, and the Lakers will be looking to avenge a difficult loss.
Flu-like symptoms didn't prevent James from pouring on 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, as Miami defeated Los Angeles, 98-87. The Heat were also without Wade.
As the Lakers are batting the Clippers in the Pacific Division in a tight race, one of their best players is battling trade rumors. Gasol has been linked to deals with Houston, Minnesota, and Chicago in recent days, as the Mar. 15 NBA trade deadline looms. With a national audience watching, and Bryant not at 100 percent, Gasol will likely want to prove his value to the Lakers against a rather under-sized Heat frontcourt.
PREDICTION: The Lakers have been excellent at Staples Center, with a 16-2 record, and have been on a roll lately, having won seven of their last nine. It is hard to tell if the Heat will be able to rely on Bosh, due to his inactivity. Expect James to have big game, and Wade to play through some of the jeers and hard fouls, and the Heat to make the game very competitive for most of the 48 minutes. But the Lakers should prevail as Bryant and the big men will play inspired basketball in front of their excited crowd.
PREDICTED SCORE: Lakers over Heat, 93-89.