Layup Line: Lakers Take On Magic, Heat Host Spurs

The Los Angeles Lakers rebounded strong from their loss to the Miami Heat last Thursday night by defeating the Dallas Mavericks on their homecourt despite a very off night from Kobe Bryant (and an injured Kobe in the fourth quarter). Andrew Bynum was completely dominant and had the game clinching free throws that sealed the victory for LA and put them back within a half-game of the Mavericks in the standings for second place in the Western Conference.

Tonight’s game against the Magic presents the Lakers an opportunity to gain even more ground on the Mavericks as Dallas has an off night. Orlando is coming off of an easy win over the Phoenix Suns early Saturday afternoon but they have lost three of their last five games and the Magic haven’t been playing all that great as a team of late.

That being said, Dwight Howard is playing better than anyone in the league right now. Over his last four games, Howard is averaging 19 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks per game and his numbers on the season are up to 23 points, 14 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. What makes tonight”s game so interesting is the fact that, just as Howard as been carrying the Magic, Andrew Bynum has been carrying the Lakers in a way over the past couple of weeks. His defensive impact has shown more than ever during this recent stretch of games and tonight’s match-up with the league’s top center presents an interesting, to use a word the Lakers have used often this season, measuring stick for Bynum.

With the win, the Lakers will move into a tie for second place tie with the Mavericks. At this point, Orlando seems to be a lock for the two seed. Miami is three and a half games ahead of them, so it will be very tough for Orlando to catch them but even if the Magic were to lose a few games in a row, the Atlanta Hawks are three and a half games back and are unlikely to move up (and even if they did, the two teams would still play each other in the first round as four and five seed match-up).

This one should be a good one.

Just over a week ago, the Miami Heat lost to the San Antonio Spurs by 30 (125-95). Since then they’ve also lost to the Portland Trail Blazers and Chicago Bulls while barely beating the Los Angeles Lakers despite playing one of their best games of the season. They blew out the Grizzlies on Saturday afternoon but they are still missing their best wing player and they were due for a good game.

Tonight they’ll take on a team that completed dominated them in their first meeting of the season. The Spurs got some pretty lucky shooting in the first quarter of that game that put the game away early (I believe Matt Bonner had four first quarter three’s), something that Pop admitted after the game (“That’s a ridiculous night as far as 3s go. It’s very rare.”), but their defense also forced 14 turnovers and had Miami’s stars disinterested from the get go.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade should come out firing in this one. They need another big win before the season ends to prepare for the playoffs and with only one other game remaining against top competition (home versus Boston on April 10th), they could use a statement game here.

- The Memphis Grizzlies will face off against the Los Angeles Clippers tonight. Memphis needs to win to make up for their loss against the Heat on Saturday. Phoenix is still just a game and a half back and the Clippers recently beat Boston in the Garden, so this should be a tough game for the Grizzlies. If they give Los Angeles a steady dose of Zach Randolph in the post to counter Blake Griffin, though, they should come out on top.

- The Suns and the Rockets will square off in the second Goran Dragic/Aaron Brooks match-up since the two were traded for each other. Right now Phoenix has the best shot at stealing the eighth seed from the Grizzlies but Houston could snatch that spot as well if they can put together a late season run. And there’s not a better way to begin that run than against the one team that stands in between them and the post-season. There’s also a possibility that Steve Nash doesn’t play in this game, which bodes well for the Rockets.

- The Hornets and the Nuggets will also play this evening. These games were always fun to watch during the Carmelo Anthony era but I have a good feeling that these games won’t be any less entertaining with Melo gone. The Nuggets are still a fun team to watch and even if Chris Paul is having a down season, he’s still a basketball mastermind.

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Mark is an 18-year old sports fanatic that founded this website back in October of 2008. He is the lead contributor for this site and a credentialed member of the media for several sports leagues and organizations. Mark's main focus is the NBA, though he also covers MLB, NFL, and International events like the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Follow Mark on Twitter: @Mark_Travis

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