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
Mar 10, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT
We’ve got a real nice feud brewing. Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard are both tough point guards on contending Western Conference teams. They both overcame long odds to reach the NBA and play with justified pride now that they’re here. And both are unafraid to speak their mind. Lillard lobbed the opening salvo after Houston’s…
Mar 10, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT
Does he mean Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani or J.R. Smith?
Mar 10, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT
Phil Jackson seems destined for New York. I argue that’s a good thing… but only if Jackson has a Jedi mind trick that can keep James Dolan at bay.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
Kansas’ Joel Embiid — potentially the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft — has sought out a second opinion on his back injury. Just a reminder of why he should jump to the NBA rather than stay another year in college.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
As if his season hasn’t been a big enough disappointment, Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will miss at least 10 games with a knee strain.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT
Nobody thinks Mike D’Antoni is the long term answer for the Lakers, but what is the point of switching out coaches this late in a lost season?
Mar 10, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
All the buzz has Phil Jackson taking a front office job with the Knicks (he’s just deliberate in making decisions like this)… but nobody asked Carmelo what he thought? Really?
Mar 10, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
With a number of top teams stumbling — Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana — it is the Spurs who have gotten healthy and looked good going 6-0 since the end of the rodeo trip. The West now dominates the top of the rankings, the Sixers are looking to set records at the bottom. 1. Spurs (46-16,…
Mar 10, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
Bulls fans have taken to chanting “M-V-P” when Joakim Noah heads to the free throw line — and he does not like it one bit.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
“Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up.”
Mar 10, 2014, 12:13 PM EDT
As a member of the Jazz, Al Jefferson once encouraged Utah fans to boo their own team. When he returned to Utah in December as a Charlotte Bobcat, Jazz fans cheered him. Now, another former Utah big man, Paul Millsap, is encouraging Jazz fans to boo him when he returns with the Atlanta Hawks. Paul…
Mar 10, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT
This 15-second sequence tells you all you need to know about the Rockets point guard.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:36 AM EDT
Who held the record previously? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Mar 10, 2014, 10:07 AM EDT
Dad was focused on the game just a l’il bit.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:35 AM EDT
Durant shooting even more – even if those extra shots are relatively inefficient – would make him more similar to history’s other high-end scorers. And that option remains on the table for him.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Odds of a warm welcome by the fans? Zero.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
The fewer the minutes for a team’s best players, the more likely teams are to be tanking and vice versa. Except in Detroit.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
A career-high 42 points on just 18 shots. Not bad.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:27 AM EDT
The mess in L.A. wasn’t so bad on Sunday.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:48 PM EDT
Houston a real contender in the West? Sure looks like it.
- PBT Extra: Can Phil Jackson help right the ship in New York? 8
- Phil Jackson reportedly close to taking Knicks job, nobody asked Carmelo about it 34
- PBT Power Rankings: Tell me again how the Spurs are too old…. 11
- Sunday NBA grades: All hail the unstoppable Jodie Meeks 13
- Harden’s 17 fourth-quarter points spark Rockets’ comeback win (VIDEO) 12