In the first meeting between the Lakers and Heat, L.A. managed to spoil Christmas across the city with a horrendous effort at Staples Center. Thursday night in Miami, the Lakers played a much better game, but whatever holiday it happens to be tonight (surely it's a holiday somewhere), it's again a sour one for Lakers fans. In a tough, hard-fought 48 minutes played with playoff intensity, the Lakers dropped their second game of the season to the Heat.
In the process, by winning a tight game well-contested down the stretch, the Heat may have resurrected their season. The Lakers, meanwhile lost an opportunity both to put the Heat a little deeper in the rearview mirror when it comes to home court in a potential Finals matchup, and to keep pace with Dallas ahead of Saturday's critical game with the Mavs. Still, Lakers fans ought not to be too busted up over this one. At some point, the Lakers were going to lose after the All-Star break.
Here's how it broke down ...
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Kobe Bryant started hot, but finished cold. For Dwyane Wade, it was the opposite. His way was apparently better.
1. First-Half Rebounding. In the first half, the Lakers did a decent job on Miami's initial opportunities, but it doesn't mean much when those first shots are followed by second and third chances. The Heat entered the break with 12 offensive rebounds, led by three from Chris Bosh and three more from Mike Miller off the bench. One play saw Miller pull up in front of Lamar Odom, miss off the glass, then earn himself a trip to the line by following the shot and drawing contact from L.O. Miller snuck inside Pau Gasol, as well, again earning himself points and a trip to the line. Overall, the Heat racked up 15 second-chance points in the first 24 minutes.
One big problem: Andrew Bynum had only one rebound in the first half, coming on the offensive end, over 16 minutes of play. Hard to turn the Heat into a one-and-done bunch when Bynum goes boardless on the defensive side -- obviously a major contrast from the glass-eating machine he's been over the past few games. As a team, the Lakers were out-boarded 23-15 in the first half. The second-half margin was far closer (Miami plus-one), but damage had already been done.
2. First-Quarter Turnovers. Only four (not great, not a disaster), but they translated to 10 points for the Heat. Add in a couple questionable shots -- a wayward Ron Artest drive through the paint comes to mind -- and the Lakers did the Heat too many favors on the offensive end. Against a team struggling to create chances in the half court but very strong on the move, L.A. was too generous. To their credit, the Lakers tightened up substantially over the course of the game, finishing with 11 TOs on the night, but against good teams -- losing streak notwithstanding, Miami clearly qualifies -- mistakes, early or late, are magnified.
3. Bench Production. The Heat came into the game with the more maligned bench, a group scoring a grand total of eight points in their loss to Portland Tuesday night. Tonight, though, the Lakers were the team without any support off the pine once you get past some solid moments from Odom. In about 33 minutes of burn, the Lakers managed to squeeze five points from Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes. None of them hit a shot from the floor. And while Miami didn't necessarily get massive production from its reserves, the Heat did get 12 from Miller (11 in the first half) and two key triples from Mike Bibby.
4. Defense Down the Stretch. For most of the game, the Lakers were extremely effective against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. For much of the second half, they were great on the defensive end, getting hands on the ball and disrupting Miami's flow, particularly in the half court. Wade in particular managed to shake off L.A.'s pressure and take over the game. As the game passed into the final five minutes, he had two layups inside in a span of 30 seconds. He came back with another bucket near the three-minute mark, and again scored at the cup for the game's decisive bucket with 46 seconds to play. Meanwhile, LeBron slammed home two more points off a Wade steal on Bryant at the other end, and Bosh kicked in as well with another basket down low.
All told, in the last five minutes the Lakers surrendered 14 points, only two of which were courtesy of late-game free throws as L.A. attempted to extend the game.
For their part, the Lakers didn't score after Kobe hit a triple from just outside Tallahassee at the 2:26 mark. That ain't good.
4. Bryant and Gasol. It should be noted both did some very good things, and are on the list for different reasons. Kobe hit five of his first six shots, scoring L.A.'s first 10 points. From there, though, he hit only three of his final 15, and had the aforementioned key turnover down the stretch. The shot selection was, at times, wonky. To his credit, Kobe was strong defensively on Wade for much of the game, particularly early, but it's hard to ignore his struggles offensively over the final three quarters. Gasol, meanwhile, was perfectly fine for the most part putting the ball in the bucket, but struggled all night to contain Bosh and wasn't nearly as sturdy inside against some of Miami's late-game penetration as he needed to be.
Offensively, the two combined for three assists, well below their normal output.
It was hardly a terrible night for either player, but it was also one with little margin for error. For one day, at least, L.A.'s stars weren't quite up to the task.
1. Ron Artest. He missed a layup late, and overall the 4-of-11 line won't have folks doing backflips, but it's hard to argue with his night as a whole. Artest chipped in with six assists, easily leading the team. More importantly, Artest was huge on LeBron, limiting him to 7-of-17 from the floor, and almost nothing outside of transition buckets. James did have nine assists, but overall Artest did great work shutting down the reigning MVP.
2. Defense on 2/3 of the Big Three. Late failures aside -- those matter, obviously -- the Lakers did a good job on two of Miami's Big Three. A total of 39 points from Wade and James on 40 shots from the floor is very acceptable. Wade got off late, but for the most part, the other guys from Bosh on down hurt the Lakers.
3. Bynum, Second-Half Edition. With a strong rebound on Miami's first possession of the second half, his go-go Gadget arm stretching high above the rim to clean up a missed 3 from James, Bynum equaled his output over the first 24 minutes. Clearly the message delivered to him in the locker room -- something along the lines of "make yourself useful" but with more colorful language -- was effective. He snared seven boards in the third quarter, while adding four points, and made himself a stronger presence in the lane, altering shots with much more effectiveness. All told, it helps explain how the Lakers limited Miami to 13 points.
In the fourth, Bynum stayed active, both on the glass and in the flow of the offense, making a couple nice passes including a great bounce pass in the lane to spring Gasol for an and-one. With about two miutes, he added a key block on Bosh. His final line -- 13 points, 12 rebounds and a block -- is impressive given where he started.