Coming in to last night's game, riding a two-game winning streak, and with the Miami Heat having been facing issues of their own this year, the slightest of hopes pervaded that perhaps the Lakers would pull off an upset, give us a glimpse of something greater than what they have showed in recent months; in short, that these Los Angeles Lakers would resemble a contender. For at least two quarters, these hopes lingered: despite the recurrent turnover issue flaring up, the Lakers shot the ball effectively and controlled the glass. However, these hopes could not last; eventually, the Heat's pernicious defense coupled with the superlative play of LeBron James to lead them to victory. In short, the better team won.
Too old, too slow, too incongruous - it's all been said before. Obviously, Dwight is not at full-strength yet; otherwise LeBron does not find the rim quite so easily. Pau's minutes were limited coming off of a concussion, and Kobe Bryant was having an off-night. That doesn't change the fact that the Heat quite simply controlled this game when they so desired. Whilst the Lakers over the last two games played at a D'Antoni pace and scored in flurries, here the game was played in the style of the Miami Heat, with low pace and a controlled game being the focus - telling was the fact that, despite the Lakers' excellent range from deep on the night, they failed to exceed 90 points, sporting an atrocious 96.0 offensive rating.
Indubitably this was a better performance than could have been expected a week or more ago; however to call such a conclusion a success would be quite literally to view it as a pyrrhic victory - transient 'progress' without concrete results in the win column gradually drags the Lakers further and further down the standings, lowering their already vastly-diminished chances of making the Playoffs.
Of note were the relatively-solid performances of Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison. Dwight Howard, though lacking offensive impact courtesy of Miami's stifling defense, made his presence felt on the boards and greatly contributed to the Lakers' rebounding edge. Kobe's night was one of his poorer ones on the season, contrapuntal to James' masterful performance, although he did do his best to make things interesting early in the fourth.
Inherently, it cannot be ignored that the Lakers as presently performing are simply not on the same level as the top-tier teams in the League. Dwight was stifled by the Miami defense. Kobe was outclassed by LeBron. The difference in familiarity and effectiveness is nowhere more obvious than the turnover differential. The inherent truth of who was the better team was blatantly on display last night, and the pendulum didn't swing in favour of the Lakers.
The argument has been made that time needs to be allowed for the Lakers to be fully-healthy and gel; however, considering the age of this team's core, that may well be a pipe dream. With Dwight's free-agency coming up, the Lakers, always a win-now team, must truly make an effort to do whatever it takes to improve this team's chances. Whether any moves can be made, significant or fringe, to improve this team remains to be seen, but something has to be done.