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Improving Lakers get moral victory. Heat get impressive actual victory.

Jan 18, 2013, 2:34 AM EDT

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Joel Anthony AP

A week ago, with Los Angeles’ big men sitting in suits on the sideline, the Thunder routed the Lakers.

Since that game the Lakers have played better, particularly on defense. Dwight Howard had become more active, the offense has been more crisp. The defensive improvement happened again for the most part on Thursday — Los Angeles held the Miami Heat to 40.9 percent shooting in the first half, plus Kobe Bryant and teammates hit key shots down the stretch and tied the game 90-90 with 2:30 left.

But that’s when the Heat put it in another gear — one of defensive pressure and good execution of their sets — that the Lakers simply could not match. Not even close.

Miami looked like a champion, closed the game on a 9-0 run behind five points and two assists from LeBron James and won 99-90.

The Lakers looked like a team that could once again not overcome their self-inflicted wounds.

The game was a reminder that when the Heat are focused on defense they are more than just contenders, they are the reigning title holders and you are going to have to rip that trophy from their hands if you want it. They still have the best player in the game in LeBron James.

It also was a reminder that the Lakers limitations as they get to know each other. It was a moral victory for a 17-22 team that is past the point of having time for moral victories. They need actual ones and they are going to have to get a bunch on the road (10 of next 13 are away from Staples).

LeBron had a “might want to think about making me MVP again” type game with 39 points on 17-of-25 shooting, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and three steals thrown in for good measure. He had 10 of those points in the fourth quarter and hit the dagger shots down the stretch. Kobe Bryant was good (22 points but on 8-of-25 shooting with six turnovers) but LeBron switched on to him defensively near the end and made Kobe’s life very difficult.

Early on, it felt like this could be a Heat runaway — Miami’s first eight points came off four Lakers turnovers and four Heat highlight transition dunks. The Lakers wanted to move the ball quickly, away from the Heat’s pressure, but the result was rushed and errant passes.

The trend continued. Los Angeles had 9 first-quarter turnovers, 16 for the half and 20 for the game. It plays right into the Heat’s hands — easy transition buckets fuel the Heat. LeBron started 7-of-9 from the floor and 14 points before he sat the first time. Miami had 13 steals at half (Chris Bosh had five by himself). Steve Nash had four first-half turnovers under intense Heat ball pressure (they went hard at him).

But Miami never pulled away. The Lakers made a few shots, got a couple of stops and hung around, and eventually they caught and passed the Heat, leading 45-44 at the half.

The reason is the book on the Heat is right — size can give them trouble. The presence of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol (returned from a concussion) forced Miami away from its preferred small-lineups and three point shooting for a while. When Miami did go small they struggled a little with their shooting. Miami had no good answer for Howard, but the Lakers only got him four first-half shots.

The problem is Howard only got 7 shots, finishing with 13 points. The Lakers didn’t go to their strength.

The game remained close in the second half, with the Heat taking little leads and the Lakers making runs to get back in it. The last of those included a Steve Nash three, then a vintage Kobe three coming off a baseline screen. That shot tied the game at 90-90 with 2:32 left.

It was the last points the Lakers would score — Miami has switched to put LeBron on Kobe, Dwyane Wade on Steve Nash, and fouling Dwight Howard before he shot. It worked.

First Miami took the lead back with an elbow action that had Wade curling in for a clean look. Then Shane Battier fouled Howard in the paint rather than giving up the easy bucket and Howard obliged missing both free throws. Then the Heat took a four point lead off a Ray Allen rainbow shot, a catch-and-shoot he got off a curl.

Next trip down Wade smothered Steve Nash and then blocked his shot. Miami got its chance, LeBron drove hard then pulled up at the elbow and nailed it, at this point there were just :49 seconds left and the Heat were up 96-60. The Lakers needed a big shot but Metta World Peace and Kobe missed threes on the same possession (but you need to credit LeBron for part of that as he smothered Kobe and took away a lot of good options).

After that, there was a LeBron slam that put a cap on it.

It was an impressive last few minutes by the Heat that reminds you how good they can be.

And was a reminder to Lakers fans how far they are from that level right now

  1. abchome - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:40 AM

    Lakers 2-1 in “new season” lol

  2. rickyspanish - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:43 AM

    The title to some of these articles are too wordy and try too hard to be funny. When’s Yahoo coming to fix things?

  3. BigBeachBall - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:48 AM

    Heat are loaded…. Just give them the trophy.

    • eventhorizon04 - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:10 AM

      Heat proved that when they’re locked in for a full-game, they’re still an elite defensive team.

      Still, in the West, OKC is better than last year, Clippers are better than last year, San Antonio is still elite. In the East, Celtics and Bulls have looked like their new rosters have begun gelling, and the Knicks have proven they match up well with the Heat. Pacers have also come alive recently.

      There are a few teams in each conference that would give Heat issues in a 7-game series, though I’m predicting a rematch from the 2012 Finals.

    • fanofevilempire - Jan 18, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      your Bucks won’t beat them but I like the Knicks chance at them.

      • bougin89 - Jan 18, 2013 at 11:55 AM

        What?!?! Larry Sanders would totally shut down Bosh. The prince would totally shut down Lebron. Ellis would totally shut down Wade. Jennings would be on fire and score 35 points. I like the Bucks chances against the Heat and I’m not at all unreasonably biased for the Bucks.

        Or. Not.

  4. limonadamas - Jan 18, 2013 at 2:57 AM

    Lebron is just too good. It seemed like he was coasting for a lot of the game and was able to completely control it when it counted. Good effort from the Lakers today. Hopefully they build on this. Didn’t mind the rotations today, actually. Don’t know where that leaves Jordan Hill when he comes back though.

    • kinggw - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:07 AM

      Hill is done for the season.

      • caeser12 - Jan 18, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        @kinggw Can’t believe someone gave you a thumbs down for reporting the truth. Jordan Hill is out for the rest of the season. Damn, Laker Girls are sensitive.

      • limonadamas - Jan 22, 2013 at 1:20 AM

        Wow… i guess i haven’t been paying attention… lol

    • eventhorizon04 - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:16 AM

      The Lakers’ strategy was to aggressively close-out on the Heat’s 3-point shooters and refuse to double-team LeBron.

      The good news for the Lakers is that the Heat (one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA) were awful from beyond the arc (2 of 13, or 15%), and that doesn’t include the times when shooters who wanted to attempt 3’s were forced to put the ball down and dribble due to a hard close-out by the Lakers. As a result of the Lakers not doubling LeBron, everybody else on the Heat (except Wade) struggled.

      The bad news for the Lakers is that Metta World Peace can’t cover LeBron one-on-one anymore. Earl Clark gave good effort, but yeah, LeBron ate him alive and usually made it to the rim when Clark tried defending him. So LeBron had a monster game and scored at will in the paint.

      Lakers are definitely playing better, but this game showed they don’t really have anybody who can match-up with LeBron. MWP can’t do it anymore.

  5. bigwii - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:14 AM

    The Lakers should consider starting Earl Clark at the 3 and have World Peace cone off the bench. It would make the starting lineup a bit younger and more athletic, while giving the bench a guy who can play good defense like World Peace. It would also give the bench a more veteran group with him, and Jamison. Sometimes it’s not always the big moves that need to be made, sometimes it’s just rearranging what you have. It worked for Boston last year with Avery Bradley, and Clark is supposed to have a lot of upside. I’m not saying he’s going to put up huge numbers but he’s been playing very well it’s something to think about

  6. bigwii - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    I forgot to put add Gasol back starting at the 4 and gave Clark play the 3 more.

  7. dko83 - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    How many more moral victories do the Lakers need to make the playoffs?

  8. fotydaze - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:20 AM

    The lakers make too many mistakes. Sloppy passing and ball handling, no adjustments from d’antoni. Why not post up Pau low to take advantage of the four inches he had on battier. How about bringing in two point guards to handle the heat on ball pressure they were giving Nash fits. For as many”shooters” Miami has they do their damage attacking the rim , but once again no adjustments to keep them from driving

  9. badintent - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:23 AM

    Bosh gets 5 steals in one half ?? The Lakers have reached a new low for TOs. playing MR. D ball. ?PATHETIC
    Yo Kebi, how’s that one on one yap working for ya now ? Busted smackdown beatdown by THE MVP 2012-2013. Deal with it .

  10. 00maltliquor - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:25 AM

    Even through the loss, there’s a lot for me to be excited/optimistic about. We played hard and were in it the whole game. If the Lakers can just keep it up like that for the rest of the season then we’ll be aiight. The 20 turnovers were ridiculous though. LeBron was amazing (as usual), Kobe almost willed a win (as usual). It was a very fun game to watch and despite the loss I was entertained and have hope for a strong run coming up.

    • loungefly74 - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:14 AM

      it was an enjoyable game. i was shocked how close they kept it even with all the TO’s. agree, kobe almost willed them back in the 4th (after a horrible 3 quarters), the bench stepped up, and overall the D was more lively than usual.
      hats off to the heat. LJ is awesome. the guy wanted the rock and did his will. no one stopped him. and the Heat played awesome D. dang, norris was full pressing nash fullcourt the entire time!
      yeah…i’m bummed…but optimistic they can turn it around.

  11. mungman69 - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:27 AM

    LeBron is the best. Sorry Kevin.

  12. 32magicman - Jan 18, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    Hit the nail on the head in this article when he said lakers didnt play to their strength. Howard MUST be the first option with the other 4 playing off him. Especially against a small ball miami team

    • borderline1988 - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:50 AM

      The key is to get the ball to Howard early b/c if you start in the 3rd or 4th quarter, teams will simply start fouling him. If he got a bunch of touches in the first quarter, the opposing team’s starters wouldn’t be able to afford fouling him b/c it would put them in foul trouble. That would then open up the court for the rest of the players.

      Kobe shot 8 of 25.. with only 1 assist and 6 turnovers…

      Let’s just be honest – this loss is on Kobe. He’s taking 35% of the team’s shots and only making them at a 32% clip. Meanwhile, Gasol and Howard shot 57% combined and got only 14 shots between them.

      The reason why the Lakers made a game out of it was b/c Kobe was hitting his 3s…all the more reason why you give the ball to your bigs to open up the court for Kobe.

  13. eventhorizon04 - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:32 AM

    A great game for fans of strategy:

    As I wrote above, the Lakers’ strategy on defense was to aggressively close-out on the Heat’s 3-point shooters and refuse to double-team LeBron. That led to bad 3-point shooting by Miami and most Heat players (except LeBron and Wade) struggling on offense. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they don’t really have anyone who can matchup one-on-one against LeBron, and he got to the rim at will.
    Dwayne Wade found success off the pick and roll (which allowed him to penetrate into the paint and shoot floaters) as well as posting up the Lakers’ point guards. Aside from Wade and LeBron, the Heat got some modest contributions on offense from Ray Allen and Norris Cole, but the Heat were carried by Wade and LeBron since their 3 point shooters went cold.

    The Heat’s strategy on defense was to front any Lakers players attempting to set up shop in the low-post, *aggressively* blitz pick-and-rolls (usually with Joel Anthony), and collapse into the paint whenever a Lakers’ player had the ball in the low-post. On the one hand, this meant the Heat often left Lakers’ jump-shooters open on the perimeter, and the Lakers shot 10/22 (46%) from 3, which kept them in the game.
    However, by blitzing Nash on pick-and-rolls and fronting Dwight Howard and Gasol, the Heat made it *very difficult* for the Lakers to get the ball to their post-scorers since Nash struggled to make the entry pass until later in the shot-clock. Credit goes out to Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, and especially Chris Bosh for successfully fronting Dwight Howard all game. Bosh had *6 steals* because while he’s not as strong as Howard, he has similar length, so he did a great job of “intercepting” entry passes to Howard whenever Nash or Kobe tried to feed Howard in the low-post. By double-teaming ball-handlers and fronting the guys in the post, the Heat forced a lot of turnovers and forced the Lakers to be a jump-shooting team when their size advantage meant they should prefer to be a low-post scoring team.

    Again – a great game if you’re a fan of matchups/strategy.

    • miamatt - Jan 18, 2013 at 10:18 AM

      Your analysis is spot on. This game was as good as it gets this time of year; I was saying that to myself even as I watched in horror while Kobe started hitting shots and the Lakers tied a game I thought Miami was about to wrap up.

      While the Lakers did play pretty strong half-court defense for much of the game, the Heat also missed some open looks from three that they usually make. Give the L.A. defense credit for not allowing Miami to get hot from distance, that was the difference that made this game a dogfight instead of a comfortable Heat victory.

      On the other side of the ball, the Heat did a great job of ball denial. I’ve seen some analysis indicating that L.A. didn’t get Howard enough touches- and they didn’t- but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Heat rotations were sharp, and they did a fantastic job of eliminating passing lanes. On possession after possession the shot clock was down to seven seconds or so before Nash could even get a pass of any kind off, let alone a pass into the post.

      When Miami plays defense like they did last night, they are almost impossible to beat.

  14. eventhorizon04 - Jan 18, 2013 at 4:46 AM

    “It also was a reminder that the Lakers limitations as they get to know each other. It was a moral victory for a 17-22 team that is past the point of having time for moral victories. They need actual ones and they are going to have to get a bunch on the road (10 of next 13 are away from Staples).”

    So the Lakers need 45+ wins to make the playoffs, and they have 17 wins so far in 39 games. That means they need to go 28-15 in the remaining 43 games from here on out, which is winning about 65% of the games. That pace is equivalent to winning 53 games in an 82 game season – that’s doable, but they **must** stay healthy. An injury that knocks out Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, or Kobe Bryant for at least 2 weeks could end the Lakers’ season.

  15. mannyfresh209 - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:13 AM

    there was NO moral victory for LA tonight… if the heat converted on half their easy wide-open shots this would’ve been a blowout. period.

  16. chicagofan - Jan 18, 2013 at 5:30 AM

    Defense wins championships and D’Antoni is a terrible defensive coach–he proved that in NY and again in LA. The Lakers are doomed to failure and they should have hired Phil.

    • urodaddy07 - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:03 AM

      Don’t forget Phoenix, he’s never had a good defensive team. Not a coincidence.

  17. jtchernak - Jan 18, 2013 at 6:10 AM

    How many times are the lakers getting moral victory’s Kurt. They win and it’s a coming out party and they lose and it’s a moral victory c’mon

  18. mungman69 - Jan 18, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Every day the Lakers get older, if that is possible.

    • raidmagic - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:55 AM

      Every day everybody gets older….

  19. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jan 18, 2013 at 7:27 AM

    “Holding the Heat to 40.9% shooting” is one way to put it. Another way the Heat had wide open shots sll night that just weren’t falling. Besides dunks, it seemed every shot the Heat took rattled inside the rim 3 times before spilling out. I couldn’t believe it. It was like the rim was one of those rims they have at carnivals.

    The Heat played great and if those widen open shots fell at their normal rate, it would have been a blowout. But they didn’t fall, so they grounded it out.

    And LeBron? I mean, what can you say? You can’t because there are no words.

    Lakers played well too. Fun game. Even an old guy like me was able to stay up to the end.

  20. kavika6 - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:03 AM

    Improving Lakers? Because they moved up from 12th in the West to 11th? I can’t wait to see the party in L.A. if they hit .500.

  21. rodge1 - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:06 AM

    Jan 17, 2013, 3:09 PM EST
    Lakers will beat the heat tonight handily, I can’t wait!! Who is going to stop Dwight howard? The heat are too small, and dwight is too dominant.

    That was a post before the game last night… Stupid Laker fans are funny

  22. themagicfanguy - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    There’s the “best one-on-one” player ever for ya lol.

  23. Foul Dwimmerlaik - Jan 18, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    As usual, another Laker loss and them haters come out like roaches salivating like a pack of hyenas over an injured prey.

    But hey, that’s life. Deal with it.

    Props to the Heat for eventually keeping the Lakers from getting a come-from-behind victory.

    Now on to the next game…

  24. dalucks - Jan 18, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    It is a sad day for Lakers fans when their beloved team is excited about a moral victory. A once proud organization has been reduced to this. What a shame.
    Maybe it is time to fire Mitch Kupchak.

  25. omniusprime - Jan 18, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    Kurt Helin you are so clueless if you think the Lakers scored any kind of moral victory. Playing a good first half or tying the game at 90 doesn’t constitute any moral victory at all, all that matters is the score at the end and the Lakers failed their big test.

    We know why the Lakers lost, Dumbtoni and Nash. Dumbtoni is too stupid to coach in the NBA and Ancient Nash is too old to play in the NBA. Pathetic that Nash threw away four first half turnovers and he never plays defense of any kind, a wonder Wade didn’t fall asleep playing him on defense. Dumbtoni is too ignorant to come up with a winning game plan or any kind of late game defense that could stop Queen James.

    Nice to see Gasol back, hopefully next game he’ll be back to starting. Hopefully Howard keeps improving as his back finally heals up all the way.

    Fire Dumbtoni!!! Trae Away Ancient Nash!!!

    • Kurt Helin - Jan 18, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      Kobe had 6 turnovers to Nash’s four.

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