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Lakers 80, Heat 96: How the Mighty Have Fallen

You know how people complain about the Detroit Lions being on TV every Thanksgiving, because every year they play like rubbish and make us all wish we could instead be watching a team that doesn't completely blow? I feel like we're just a couple more Christmases away from the Lakers being held in the same scorn. For the second straight season they've befouled everyone's holiday by not even condescending to compete on their own home floor. Last year it was LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers who destroyed the champs on Christmas Day. This year it was again LeBron, whose Miami Heat dished out a massive dose of humiliation, beasting all over the Lakers en route to a 96 to 80 romp.

Not only was this the Lakers' second consecutive Christmas Day massacre. It was also the second straight pounding they've endured at Staples, coming as it did on the heels of the Bucks' 19-point win last Tuesday. The purp and yellow are playing some truly stankacious ball, and they don't give the impression of a squad on the verge of turning it around. Today the Heat owned them on both ends of the court, making the Lake Show look disorganized, slow and flat-out old.

Clowning on Miami's big three has been a favorite hobby around these parts, but in this one Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron lived up to all their considerable hype. Wade, playing on a sore left knee, didn't shoot well but repeatedly took apart the Lakers' halfcourt D with his dribble penetration. With 24 points and 13 boards, Bosh was easily the best big man on the floor. And James was straight-up brilliant. He scored 27 points on only 17 shots (including free-throw possessions), making five of six three-pointers. He dished 10 assists, pulled in 11 rebounds, collected four steals and turned the ball over just once. An awesome display from a guy the Lakers couldn't dream of stopping.

The home squad's problems began to take shape midway through the first quarter. With the game tied at 10, they slipped into a horrible offensive drought caused in no small measure by Miami's sensational defense. The Heat were giving no space to Laker ballhandlers and forced the Lakers into a series of difficult, challenged shots. Ten straight possessions went by without a Lake Show score, at which point the Heat led by seven. In the first quarter the Lakers missed 19 of their 25 field-goal attempts. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were a combined 0 for 11.

In the second period, the Laker D decided it might as well start sucking too. The Heat broke out some crisp, delicious ball movement that left the champs flat-footed, and quickly Miami scored on six of their first eight possessions to open up a 33-20 cushion. It was already starting to feel like Christmas 2009 all over again. That old failing of Los Angeles Laker defense - an inability to deal with the pick and roll - rose from the grave to haunt us as in days of yore. Guys assigned to the dribble man got rubbed out on screens way too easily, Gasol's hedges were weak and when the structure of the defense collapsed LeBron and Wade had only to decide which Heat player would take the open shot available to him. Only a few missed open threes by Mario Chalmers and James Jones kept the game from getting totally out of hand before the break. Ron Artest dropped in two shots late, his only two buckets on the day, to close the halftime margin to a deceptively small nine.

There was a dim flicker of hope at the beginning of the third, when Kobe hit an elbow three to pull the Lakers within six a couple minutes in. But the Heat just calmly went back to work in their halfcourt sets and scored on eight of their next 11 trips. The big three took their turns knocking down easy looks. Even Zydrunas Ilgauskas, whom Pau inexplicably failed to check on the perimeter, got a piece of the fun with a couple J's. Again, had the Heat supporting players like Chalmers and Carlos Arroyo been able to connect on more of their wideass open threes, this would've been over even earlier than it was.

The Lakers, at their best, could only trade baskets, and so gradually the lead grew. A gathering sense of horror overtook Laker fans as we realized we were watching another disaster unfold. The fourth quarter was just a continuation of the Heat's defensive clinic. They had the Laker attack on complete lockdown until the very end. The Miami lead touched 20 a couple times before landing at 16 when the game drew to a merciful conclusion.

The Lakers could scarcely have embarrassed themselves more in this one. Nobody played well. Lamar Odom started strong and then disappeared at the offensive end. Pau showed no aggressiveness or creativity in attacking the slower Miami bigs. Kobe was reasonably effective on offense but utterly failed in guarding Wade. Artest got destroyed by LeBron. Steve Blake and Matt Barnes looked overwhelmed by the occasion. Only Andrew Bynum was halfway decent, and he went only 18 minutes, not nearly enough to influence the outcome.

From top to bottom the Lakers' performance today was mortifying. They need to break their freefall somehow, but it's not going to be easy with a back-to-back roadie in San Antonio and New Orleans next on the docket. If you can find cause for optimism in this mess, you've got more Christmas spirit than I do.











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