Jan 18, 2013, 2:34 AM EDT
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.
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
Jul 31, 2014, 12:04 AM EDT
A LeBron James-Kevin Love combo seems increasingly inevitable
Jul 30, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
“His unique skill set makes him one of the best players in the game today.” —Pat Riley on Chris Bosh, who still is overpaid.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Pat Riley got beat in free agency, and he doesn’t take losing well.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Scott, not Mike Brown, would have followed Phil Jackson
Jul 30, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
“He’s playing out of his mind. He’s being Derrick Rose.” —Anthony Davis on Rose.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
NBA reportedly wanted Bavetta to retire four years ago
Jul 30, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
The elicits a shrug of the shoulders. Not much else.
Jul 30, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
Thunder star texted Davis after winning the award last season: ‘You on your way to get it’
Tony Parker says skipping FIBA World Championships this summer was a way for him to ‘give back to the Spurs’
Jul 30, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT
Parker has played 91 extra games since his last summer break three seasons ago.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
“Guys that don’t have a reputation for playing hard defense are picking up full court.” —Damian Lillard on the level of play at Team USA training camp.
Jul 30, 2014, 2:19 PM EDT
Dallas originally signed Lewis, but voided his contract once it was discovered he would require knee surgery.
Jul 30, 2014, 1:34 PM EDT
Cleveland, Chicago, Indiana, Miami, Toronto and Washington all simply shake their heads.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
World Peace hasn’t drawn legitimate interest from NBA teams, so he’s considering playing overseas.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT
Silly idea anyway.
Report: Anthony Bennett pulled from pro-am by agent, possibly due to his inclusion in Kevin Love trade talks
Jul 30, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Just like Love, Bennett is not going to be playing in any games this summer until a deal is done.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:32 AM EDT
Sixers put a multi-year plan together based on current rules, which would be adversely affected with a quick change to the system.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
This was 100 percent guaranteed.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:18 AM EDT
Hayward set to earn $62,965,420 over next four years
Jul 30, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT
“Everyone talks about match-ups (with big teams such as Spain), people have to match-up against us, too.” — USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski
Jul 30, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
LeBron still not as popular as prior to The Decision, though. It’s only a matter of time until he is.
- Report: Cavaliers last team standing in Kevin Love trade talks 0
- Pat Riley says he didn’t think LeBron was leaving, Heat can turn around quickly 28
- Coach K on Rose: “Derrick’s played great, not good, and hasn’t held anything back” 17
- Report: Anthony Bennett pulled from pro-am by agent, possibly due to his inclusion in Kevin Love trade talks 42
- Report: Sixers fighting against immediate changes to NBA Draft Lottery system 56
- Team USA going small ball, but how many bigs do they keep on the bench? 4
- Report: LeBron James more popular than he ever was with the Heat 15
- Durant says 2014 USA team better than 2010 version that won gold 6