USA TODAY Sports
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and a suffocating Miami defense denies LA the upset
39, 27, 20, 6.
LeBron James had 39 points.
Dwyane Wade had 27.
The Los Angeles Lakers had 20 turnovers, including 14 in the first half.
The Miami Heat took care of the ball, and conversely only gave the rock away 6 times.
Just when it seems the Lakers are fixing one problem, they're going back to old habits. LA succumbed to a difficult early-season malady of carelessly giving the ball away tonight, one of the chief reasons for a 99-90 loss at home against the World Champion Miami Heat.
Despite double-digit turnovers in the first half, the Lakers actually came into the third quarter with a 45-44 lead, on the strength of superior shooting and a dominating rebounding edge that they maintained throughout the game. However, a 1 point lead, as Kenny Smith said at halftime, should have been a 9 point edge. The Lakers, Kobe and Nash chief amongst them, threw the ball away on short passes and miscommunication. Make no mistake; the Lakers didn't do this entirely on their own. The Heat defenders stifled their opposition into making last minute passes with their length and athleticism, trapping LA with pressured half court defense and an unparalleled game-long effort. Miami continued to hawk passing lanes with their excellent rotations and quickness, while the Lakers couldn't do anything to replicate that very same scheme (unbelievably, the Lakers forced zero turnovers from their opponent's bench). The Heat make their bones suffocating oppositions in this manner, making it a nightly struggle to defend big men, even in spite of the Lakers' decided height advantage.
Even as Mike D'Antoni tried to pare away at the Heat with his dominating front line, Miami transitioned to playing denial up the middle against Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. The Lakers' two centers ended with a combined 25 points and 20 rebounds on a scant 14 shots. In the coming days, I have no doubt that critics will bemoan Mike D'Antoni's inability to call plays for his bigs in the paint in this game, when the reality is that the Lakers simply couldn't get them the ball. Miami--Joel Anthony, Shane Battier and LeBron James specifically--played Gasol and Howard so brilliantly, using their quickness and athleticism to not just contain, but to deny them even the ability to get shots. Tonight could have been framed as another fine example of why the Coach of the Year trophy should be mailed to Erik Spoelstra's doorstep: the man has his reigning champions with the best record in the Eastern Conference and has drawn up a scheme that if executed correctly, allows his team to win anywhere with no players over 6'10". Amazing.
And then of course there's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The two combined for 2/3 of Miami's scoring, destroying the Lakers in every conceivable way; in transition, in isolation, in the pick and roll, etc., etc. Combined with LA's penchant for turnovers, Miami's excellent defense on Gasol and Howard and the Lakers' lack of athleticism, it's really no wonder the Heat outscored the Lakers in the paint by 40 points. LeBron in particular was magnificent tonight, splitting interior defenses, scoring in isolation situations, violating the hoops on the run and doling out 8 assists while shooting 17 for 25. Mike D'Antoni seemed to insist on not doubling James, which makes some sense if you consider the knock down shooters dotting the floor around him...but it also made zero sense considering that he absolutely eviscerated the Lakers tonight. If you don't enjoy watching LeBron James play, even when he's on the other side of the court, you don't love NBA basketball. That's a fact, jack.
On the Lakers side, there's some positives here, but at this point, it's not even worth going over. For posterity, Pau Gasol looked solid coming off the bench after doing nothing but lie in a dark room for over a week, with 12/4/4 in 25 minutes. Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace both had good nights, scoring often and effectively enough to give Miami pause on the defensive end. On the whole, the Lakers played with energy and determination, but just didn't have the requisite athleticism to force Miami to play uncomfortably. Despite the close game, the Heat enforced their style of play on LA for four straight quarters.
Part of the blame here has to go to Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Bryant's final quarter not withstanding, the Mamba had a wretched shooting night, finishing with 22 points on 25 shots. His two-game DoberMamba cameo appearance went by the wayside tonight, as Wade didn't look like he labored much for his 27 on 12 for 20 shooting. Howard wasn't getting the touches, true enough, but shot 5 for 13 from the free throw line and couldn't find a way to overpower much smaller defenders. He finished with just 13 points, and is ripe for criticism.
As we've said on SS&R collectively for weeks now--the time for silver linings and moral victories is over. O-V-E-R. The Lakers need to win now, no matter where the game is played and who it's against. Reigning champs or not, LA is five games under .500, with a killer end of January coming up. The dark times aren't over, friends. Not by a long shot.
-Follow this author @TheGreatMambino