Although the Lakers' effort and execution was encouraging against Miami, their ultimate defeat notwithstanding, the real question is whether it will carry into their future games.
With the exception of their collapse in the fourth quarter -- or the Heat overwhelming them, however you care to interpret it -- the Lakers' performance was mostly an admirable one. The ball was moving well, the Lakers were finding ways to beat the suffocating pressure of the Heat's blitzing pick-and-roll defense, and you were inevitably left with the question of where this effort was a few nights past in Boston. If you say that the Lakers wake up for marquee opponents, that argument doesn't hold water considering that it's the Celtics, although of the Lakers who were on the 2010 title team, only Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace were in uniform that evening. In any case, should the Lakers have deigned to bring the same game plan against Charlotte, we're probably looking at a 20 point victory. Same thing in the disastrous loss to Phoenix.
The underlying point is that the Lakers have to bring this focus on a more consistent basis, however much this has been the team's bete noire in the past. We've been searching for the Lakers' sense of urgency ever since it became apparent that this season was leaning in a hazardous direction, and while an optimist would say that winning seven of their last ten would constitute that, how they have gone about their games has made it difficult for everyone to be convinced. Should they play as they did in Miami, they can sweep their upcoming homestand and return to .500 for once, and make healthy progress towards turning around their season.
- Kobe Bryant -- Kobe had three quarters of brilliant play before he started turning the ball over too frequently down the stretch, but the entire team was at fault during that period, so it would be unwarranted to put it all on Kobe's shoulders. Regardless, a 28/6/9 performance with a combination of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Shane Battier guarding him the whole game is incredibly impressive, as Kobe blew past his defenders to the rim, shot over them with his usual assortment of fadeaways, and was distributing as well as he has done all season. This was the virtuoso performance that Kobe put on against OKC two weeks ago, except he had less help this time around. It also indicates how increasingly dependent the team is nowadays on Kobe creating either for himself or others from the midpost area, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially against an extraordinary pick-and-roll defense like Miami's, but it puts a lot of impetus on him to perform well every night to grease the wheels of the Lakers' offense. Again, without Pau Gasol present, it removes one of the team's primary playmakers and considering that the current dynamic in the backcourt leans in his direction for playmaking duties, he has to produce in that regard.
- Earl Clark -- If you still don't think Clark is legit, we would like to refer you to the sequence in which he did something that has been impossible for the entire league for the past few weeks and actually stopped LeBron in straight-up defense with no help by blocking his shot attempt at the rim when he began his drive from the elbow. That's bonkers. Also impressive was that he was one of the few players all day who actually was trying to feed Dwight Howard in the post over Miami's fronting defense, and in general, he was making solid decisions throughout the game. The only blemish was his wayward shooting from midrange, caused in part because no defense in the league recovers faster to shooters than Miami's, which took his toll on what normally is a relatively uncontested shot for Clark. Still, Clark continues to produce in all aspects despite receiving a lot more attention from opposing defenses. This isn't going away.
- Steve Nash -- Kobe and Nash need to run that 2-1 or 1-2 pick-and-roll way more than they're doing right now because when both of them are on, it's unstoppable. Multiple times Nash slipped the screen and was wide open in space because defenders refused to leave Kobe with a smaller defender for him to wreck in isolation. The easy answer to the question of who to make the scorer or the playmaker is to involve both of them in the same action and let the defense dictate what is available. It's certainly much more reliable than any other of the pick-and-roll combinations they can run with Pau out and Dwight so limited, and you're allowing the team's two best playmakers to make the optimal decision. All of this noted, Nash did have a fair bit of goofs throughout this contest and it's largely a result of his inability to deal with Miami's aggressive blitzing on the pick-and-roll, which is really tough for him to create against at his age.
- Jodie Meeks -- Meeks probably needs to play more because wing scoring is becoming so scarce outside of Kobe that you need to start making adjustments to get points out of that area. The major issue is that without Pau, you're often left with a bench unit that is relying on Steve Blake to create off the dribble and is not always conducive to Meeks getting his open spot-up looks from behind the arc. Make him more of a regular part of the rotation and this problem goes away as he becomes able to work off Kobe and Nash. Moreover, if there's someone who is going to eat up shots, you might as well give them to the team's dedicated sharpshooter, as other options have not been great at hitting all of those open wing or corner threes that the starters frequently open up.
- Honorable mention to Dwight Howard, who did a lot of good things on Sunday despite being limited physically and being subjected to an incredibly aggressive denial strategy by Miami. As noted above, Clark was the lone guy who seemed interested in trying to feed Dwight over the fronting defense, and you really need to go above and beyond to get Dwight involved against Miami's defense. Whenever he got deep post position and was fed the ball, he was finishing well and getting to the line, some easy misses at the rim notwithstanding. Still, Dwight's lack of presence in the rebounding department seriously hurt the team over the course of the game, his generally solid defense aside, as giving Miami extra possessions is an easy recipe for failure. It would be remiss to accuse Dwight of a lack of effort in this department, but he simply needed to have more of an impact against a marquee team.
- Metta World Peace -- He can't continue to be such a liability. That's the bottom line. Despite being awful on offense, he doesn't defend nearly well enough to justify his presence on the court, as evidenced by Bron obliterating him at every turn. Granted, practically no one can do anything to slow him down nowadays, but Clark was arguably doing a better job making his life marginally more difficult. MWP hasn't been productive as a spot-up shooter, cutter or driver to the rim, or post-up man, the last item put in stark relief when he inexplicably decided to post-up LeBron and failed miserably. That highlights what has become an increasing problem with MWP: he isn't just inefficient on offense, he's making bad decisions that ultimately don't turn out well. His wayward drives to the rim, awkward post-ups, and fadeaway jumpers, all of which were bizarrely effective earlier in the year, are falling short as of now. Seeing that Metta isn't a particularly adept passer or active on the offensive boards, he offers very limited value on that end and it's hurting the Lakers significantly in terms of spacing as teams utterly ignore him. The Lakers' wing depth is so sparse that they have no choice but to play MWP, but at this rate, he needs to lose a lot of his playing time to some combination of Meeks, Jamison, Kobe, or Clark. He simply doesn't cut it anymore as a starter and the amnesty ax has to be consideration in the offseason.
- Antawn Jamison -- As versus being a liability, Jamison was simply ineffectual in the Miami game, as it was difficult for him to get clear cuts to the rim and open spot-up opportunities. It's hard for him to be productive otherwise and Miami did a good job denying him the places he's normally effective at. The lone bucket he got was classic Jamison: a broken play in which he drove into the lane and hit an incredibly awkward shot that went in because Jamison's entire game is predicated on being paradoxical. Otherwise, his performance was largely unremarkable and in a game in which the Lakers needed excellence from every quarter, that wasn't enough.