Heat put unbeaten home mark on line vs. James, Lakers

NBA Basketball
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Five years after he completed his two-time NBA championship run with the Miami Heat, LeBron James is back … for a brief visit.

The Heat play host to James, fellow superstar Anthony Davis and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night in a matchup between two of the top teams in the league.

Miami is 11-0 at home this season, and the Lakers — the top team in the Western Conference — are 12-1 on the road.

James, who will turn 35 on Dec. 30, is still a force.

He is averaging 25.8 points, which is down a bit from his career average of 27.1.

James is averaging seven rebounds, which is down a bit from his career norm of 7.4.

He is averaging 1.3 steals, which is down from his career average of 1.6.

But James also leads the league with 10.8 assists per game, which is on pace to be the best total of his career, and he made some great passes in Los Angeles’ 96-87 road win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.

In fact, after Orlando rallied from a 24-point deficit to tie the score in the fourth quarter, James assisted on the next three Los Angeles baskets.

“He is the best in the world for a reason,” third-year Lakers guard Alex Caruso said. “Him getting to the paint draws so many bodies that we are open on the back side.”

Coach Frank Vogel said James “quarterbacks the action for us,” and it’s been effective for the Lakers, who are on a five-game winning streak and have not lost consecutively all season.

Davis, a 6-foot-10 power forward acquired in an offseason trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, has been as good as expected, leading the Lakers in scoring (27.2), rebounds (9.2), blocks (2.6) and steals (1.5).

The Lakers are hoping to get two key reserves back soon, possibly on Friday.

Forward Kyle Kuzma, who averaged 18.7 points last season, missed the Orlando game due to an injured left ankle. His scoring average is down to 11.1 points this season.

The other player the Lakers are hoping to get back soon is backup point guard Rajon Rondo, who has missed two straight games due to a hamstring injury. Rondo is averaging 8.5 points and 5.9 assists, but his 20.9 minutes per game are on pace to be a career low.

Miami has two injured players among those in the rotation: point guard Goran Dragic (groin) and forward Justise Winslow (back).

Even so, the Heat are on a three-game winning streak. Miami also has won six of its past seven games, with three of those victories coming in overtime.

Miami, which is 4-0 in OT this season, lost to the Lakers 95-80 in Los Angeles on Nov. 8. That was the only prior meeting between the teams this season.

The Heat started a five-game win streak immediately following that Lakers loss.

Much of Miami’s success can be attributed to point forward Jimmy Butler, who leads the team in scoring (20.6), assists (7.0) and steals (2.1). He is also third on the team in rebounds (6.9).

Miami center Bam Adebayo, who started a total of just 47 games in his first two seasons in the league, is now a full-time starter, and he is averaging career highs in points (15.3), rebounds (team-high 10.5), assists (4.4) and blocks (team-high 1.2).

The additions of Butler and rookie guards Kendrick Nunn (16.2 points per game) and Tyler Herro (13.9), plus the improvement of Adebayo, have helped the Heat get massively better from a 2018-19 team that went 39-43 overall and 19-22 at home.

Battling Adebayo for the title of most improved Heat player is forward Duncan Robinson, who is averaging 11.8 points while shooting a blistering 44.9 percent on 3-pointers. He also leads the team with an average of 3.1 made 3-pointers per game. Robinson sank a career-high 10 treys on Tuesday in an overtime win against the Atlanta Hawks.

“I don’t think anybody thought we were going to be relevant this year,” Adebayo said, “but we’re making people watch us.”

–Field Level Media

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