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
Jun 29, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
The bottom line is this: Butler is going to be a Bull next season.
Jun 29, 2015, 6:16 PM EDT
The first rule of trading a player is to not look like you want to trade that player.
Jun 29, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT
Kind of hard to picture him going to the Raptors considering the other options on the table.
Jun 29, 2015, 4:31 PM EDT
The real question for Wade and his effort to leverage the Heat: Who is going to give him more money than Miami?
Jun 29, 2015, 3:44 PM EDT
The report says $12 million a year for Afflalo, that price seems steep.
Jun 29, 2015, 3:18 PM EDT
They are trying to keep those two while dealing Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.
Jun 29, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Expect the Bledsoe drama to play out through the summer. Again.
Jun 29, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT
He has more leverage this way, can get a longer deal.
Jun 29, 2015, 1:24 PM EDT
Doesn’t Butler strike you as the kind of veteran the Spurs bring in and he’s rejuvenated?
Jun 29, 2015, 12:44 PM EDT
The question is only what length of contract Love will sign.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Where is Wade going to find a better deal on the open market?
Jun 29, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
Stan Van Gundy’s offense doesn’t really fit two traditional bigs.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT
There is interest in Joe Johnson out there, but his $24.9 million salary limits it.
Jun 29, 2015, 9:57 AM EDT
The Wizards would like to find a stretch four this summer then play Nene more as a backup to Gortat.
Jun 29, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
In the playoffs, Aminu averaged 11.2 points, and 7.2 rebounds a game, shot 63.3 percent from three and had a PER of 20.3.
Jun 29, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Every agent is using the Lakers as leverage now.
Jun 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
If the Suns want to move Bledsoe, there will be interested trading partners.
Report: Dallas most likely team to lure DeAndre Jordan from Clippers, Chandler Parsons already recruiting
Jun 29, 2015, 12:46 AM EDT
Jordan has felt like a third wheel at times in Los Angeles.
Jun 28, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Knight was traded from Milwaukee at the deadline.
Jun 28, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Ginobili has hinted that retirement is possible.
- Report: Chicago Bulls give Jimmy Butler max qualifying offer 0
- Report: Dwyane Wade will not opt-in with Heat, to become free agent (as expected) 24
- Report: Knicks front runner to land Arron Afflalo (and Greg Monroe, too) 18
- Report: Luol Deng surprises Miami, opts in for 2015-16 season 25
- Report: Sense around league is Kevin Love will re-sign with Cavaliers 28
- Report: As deadline nears, signs still point to Dwyane Wade opting out, becoming free agent 38
- Report: Dallas most likely team to lure DeAndre Jordan from Clippers, Chandler Parsons already recruiting 24
- Report: Lakers would still trade D’Angelo Russell for DeMarcus Cousins straight up. Kings wouldn’t. 29