In a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers (32-19) take on the Miami Heat (26-25) to kick off a TNT double-header on Thursday night. The Heat won the only other matchup this season, a 96-94 final back on February 20 in which neither team scored more than 17 points in the fourth quarter. Expectations should be for another low-scoring affair with the total set at 204.5 points.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat
Thursday, April 8, 2021 – 07:30 PM EDT at American Airlines Arena
Miami is an 8-point favorite at most NBA sportsbooks, which just goes to show how much value the Lakers lose without LeBron James and Anthony Davis available. The Lakers are 4-7 in games this season where James did not play or only played 10 minutes. However, the record is 4-2 in the last six games, albeit with four wins over bottom feeders. Can the Lakers upset the streaky Heat?
Lakers: All About the Defense
The Lakers are not a hard team to figure out right now. When you lose your two best players, and one is the best of his generation, then you are going to see that impact the offensive side of the ball the most.
Unsurprisingly, over the last 10 games, the Lakers rank dead last in Offensive Rating (100.7) and have the worst turnover percentage (17.8%). Maybe the surprising part is that without James and Davis, the defense still ranks No. 2 in Defensive Rating (103.6) over the last 10 games. The Lakers rank first on the season in that metric, so the defense has remained consistent despite the injuries.
With the limited shot-making ability on the team, the Lakers really must keep the score under 110 points to realistically win now. They have done an admirable job of doing that in recent weeks, only allowing the Pelicans (128 points) to really do a number on them.
That is why you should trust the Lakers defense to be good in this game, especially against a Miami offense that ranks 23rd in Offensive Rating and 26th in points per game. The Lakers (.353) shoot the three rather poorly, but Miami (.346) is even worse this season despite taking the eight-most attempts from three.
In Tuesday’s loss to the Grizzlies, the Heat let a mediocre offense shoot 54.8% from the field. The Lakers are coming off their best shooting game without James when they made 49.4% against Toronto in Tuesday’s 110-101 win. It was a total team effort with no one player scoring more than 17 points, or exactly the kind of effort the Lakers need right now without their superstars.
Heat: Here We Go Again?
Let’s update that wild Miami ride. Going back to February, the Heat lost two straight, won four straight, lost three straight, won 11 out of 12, lost six straight, won four straight, and then lost Tuesday to Memphis. Is it the start of another losing streak?
Miami’s offense was solid against Memphis, but the defense failed the team. You would like to think Jimmy Butler and company have the edge over this version of the Lakers. Miami is 19-2 this season when shooting at least 3.0 percentage points better than the opponent, including February’s win over Los Angeles. The Lakers lack a reliable 20-point scorer right now.
Miami has shared the ball well in recent weeks. The team has the highest assist ratio and percentage in the last 10 games. In that same time, the Lakers (95.4%) have the highest rate of assisted three-pointers while the Heat rank third (91.9%). Neither offense really has the kind of pull-up shooter who can create his own deep shot right now.
On the season, the Lakers have the sixth-highest rate of points in the paint while the Heat allow the fewest points in the paint per game. The Lakers just played a Toronto defense that ranks No. 2 in points in the paint allowed. In that win, the Lakers only had 30.9% of their points come in the paint, their third-lowest game of the season as the longer shots connected better. Can you trust them to do it on the road in a second straight game?
Miami is 6-13 ATS as a favorite of at least four points this season. I am not overly concerned that Miami will lose this game straight up, but eight points is a pretty high spread for a mediocre team going up against a great defense. While the Lakers have been taken to the woodshed recently by the Clippers and Bucks, the Heat only ranks 18th in margin of victory.
Miami has the sixth-worst spread record this season and the fifth-worst spread record at home. The team is so streaky that it also covers just 34.8% of the time after a loss.
I am going to trust the Lakers and their defense to keep the score down and the game close to cover the spread for my NBA picks on Thursday night.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.