Jan 18, 2013, 2:34 AM EST
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
Dec 5, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
Mark Cuban tried to just spend his way to an NBA title. It didn’t work. It rarely does in the NBA — you need an elite player or two, but you can’t just go Steinbrenner and try to buy all the talent in the world to go around them. You need the right kind of…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
I have this odd vision for the future of the NBA, and in it everyone looks like Kirk Hinrich. Well, everyone doesn’t actually look like Kirk Hinrich, but all the players are wearing goggles nonetheless. That’s not just because they look cool and I think Hinrich is the undisputed king of accessorizing, and it’s not…
Dec 5, 2013, 3:09 AM EST
I said it in the PBT nightly grades post and I’ll say it here — I think LaMarcus Aldridge is the best four in the league right now. I’d take him over Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan or anyone else you can throw out there right now (excluding LeBron James, who plays kind of…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:20 AM EST
Our nightly look around the NBA, or what you missed while figuring out how to use lasers to mark the first down line in the a football game…. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. For my money right now he is the best power forward in the game. I’d rather have him over Kevin Love or…
Dec 4, 2013, 10:53 PM EST
Kobe Bryant is back to practicing at full speed this week, and while many hoped that would mean a return to real game action as soon as Friday on the road against the Kings in Sacramento, Bryant himself said on Wednesday that wouldn’t be the case. Speaking to many reporters one-on-one at the unveiling of…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:27 PM EST
UPDATE 9:46 p.m.: The NBA later issued an official release detailing the postponement: “The National Basketball Association game scheduled for tonight between the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves has been postponed due to a generator malfunction which produced smoke inside Mexico City Arena. “The date for the rescheduled game, which will be played at…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:01 PM EST
Gerald Henderson of the Bobcats became the latest player to be warned for violating the league’s anti-flopping rule on Wednesday, and there’s little doubt that his dive against the Mavericks on Tuesday was worthy of its distinction. With his back to the defender, Henderson simply takes a leap toward the sideline with the ball in…
Dec 4, 2013, 6:35 PM EST
Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference? Asking for a friend.— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 04, 2013 That is just classic. Sure, it’s been easy for fans and the media to pile on the Eastern Conference, where the 9-9 Wizards are the No. 3 seed and the 8-12 Celtics lead the Atlantic Division.…
Dec 4, 2013, 5:59 PM EST
Larry Sanders has been out since early November when he got involved in a bar fight and tore ligaments in his thumb so badly it required surgery to repair the hand. Sanders has since apologized to fans and the team for the incident. But it’s not over yet. Sanders has been cited twice for his…
Dec 4, 2013, 5:14 PM EST
The Washington Wizards have gone 7-3 in their last 10 and have moved into the No. 3 seed in the East (at 9-9, but still the three seed) all without having the No. 3 pick in the last draft Otto Porter, who was supposed to be the starting three on this team. But they could…
Dec 4, 2013, 3:58 PM EST
When TNT worked with the NBA to set up its Thursday showcase schedule, this Thursday seemed like a ratings spike — the defending Atlantic Division champion Knicks with Carmelo Anthony against the new Kidd on the block in the Brooklyn Nets. Then a showdown between Derrick Rose‘s Bulls and the two-time defending champion Heat. The…
Dec 4, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
It’s the most anticipated game on the NBA calendar, a battle of powerhouse franchises fighting for the heart of America’s biggest city… Or, it could be a big steaming pile of… that stuff you have to scrape off the bottom of your shoe sometimes. It’s the Thursday night showdown between the 3-13 Knicks vs. the…
Dec 4, 2013, 2:28 PM EST
Nate Robinson often gets plenty of run for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter of games. For one thing, he is the human proof of the hot hand theory and when he gets going can change a game (or he can be Mr. Snow Miser, everything he touches turns to snow in his clutch… he’s…
Dec 4, 2013, 2:04 PM EST
DeMarcus Cousins sat out the Kings loss to the Thunder Tuesday night with an ankle injury. When asked if he would be ready to go Friday, he decided to play comedian. Don’t tempt fate, DeMarcus. Derrick Rose may not think it’s funny but Cousins’ comments sounded like a lot of people on twitter who have…
Dec 4, 2013, 1:14 PM EST
Got to hand it to Turkish Airlines — they are willing to pay for two of the most expensive sports sponsors in the world, then they have put together some pretty clever ads for them. The latest has Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi — apparently both having time on their hands as they try to recover…
Dec 4, 2013, 12:48 PM EST
We use the phrase here regularly: Kevin Durant is the second best basketball player walking the planet earth right now. Durant is sick of having that title. He has said it before and he said it again in an interview set to air on “60 Minutes Sports” which will air on Showtime tonight (10 ET).…
Dec 4, 2013, 12:04 PM EST
Omer Asik will be out for at least a week after suffering a right thigh contusion, reports Jason Friedman of Rockets.com. Asik will be re-evaluated at that time to assess whether or not he’s able to return. Asik’s injury could leave Houston pretty shorthanded for Wednesday night’s contest against the Suns. Jeremy Lin is out…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:42 AM EST
The Spurs will face the Timberwolves in Mexico City on Wednesday as part of the NBA’s 2013-14 Global Games schedule, which included eight preseason games played internationally and one more to be played in London on between the Hawks and the Nets on Jan. 16. San Antonio’s players celebrated the occasion by taking on some…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:01 AM EST
Imagine being in a management position at your job, and supervising one of your better employees for a somewhat extended period of time. Then flash forward years later, when for a variety of reasons, you accept a position working for your former employee, who now has your old job. And while your former employee knows…
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