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Lakers 88, Heat 94: Desperation > Revenge

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If you were to tell me two weeks ago that the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat would play a hotly contested game, with a playoff atmosphere, and the game would be decided solely on the basis of who wanted it more, I would have just about bet the house on the Lakers winning the game. But circumstances change, and those circumstances (Miami on a 5-game losing streak, the Lakers on an 8-game winning streak) dictated that it was Miami that entered this game as the team desperate to taste victory. And so they did, out-crunching the Lakers and pulling out a 94-88 win that will stem the tide of all the panic press that has descended on South Florida.

This was not what you would call a pretty game. Ironically, the 1.13 points per possession posted by the Heat looks fantastic, and the 1.06 PPP posted by L.A. is OK, too, but both of these numbers were driven by an insane level of offensive rebounding. Neither team shot particularly well and, while both of these teams are capable of tremendous defense, I don't really think it was the defense's influence that was causing much of the failures. Instead, it was failure by design, for both sides. For the Heat, that meant too much settling for jump shots by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, neither of whom could deliver from greater than 20 feet as the Lakers willingly packed the paint and observed. For the Lakers, that meant too much settling for shots of any kind by Kobe Bryant. Down the stretch, the Heat players figured out what they needed to do to win, while the Mamba's shots became increasingly complex.   The Heat scored 14 points in the last 5:31 of game time, and every single point came from a layup, save two LBJ free throws. The Laker offense scratched for the final time (on a 28(!!!) foot Kobe three) with 2:26 left on the clock. For all the talk about how bad the Miami Heat have been in crunch time this season, tonight's game was another indication that a discerning eye pointed towards the Lakers finds plenty of reason for concern as well.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. None of this crunch time performance would have meant a thing if not for the desperate manner in which the Heat played this game before crunch time. Finally, after all the talk of crying and caring and blah, blah, blah, the Heat did what you are supposed to when you get into a terrible slump like they've been in. You work harder than the other guy, because you need it more than the other guy. That's not a criticism of the Lakers, who tried, and played hard. But Miami played like the caged beast that they are, and that manic energy paid off to the tune of 18 offensive rebounds and 21 second chance points. Every live ball had one or two Heat players flying after it. Rebounds that would normally be safe high above the heads of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum became Heat tap outs because Wade or James or Mike Miller kept getting their hands on the ball before the Lakers bigs could control it. All told, the Heat rebounded 42% of their missed shots. The Lakers did well on the offensive glass, too, simply on account of being bigger than their opponents as usual, picking up 35% of their missed shots en route to 13 offensive rebounds and 13 second chance points of their own, but the difference is that offensive rebounds are constantly a part of their game, and rarely a part of Miami's. The Lakers rank 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding rate on the season, and the Heat rank 23rd. For the Lakers, tonight's performance on the offensive boards  was slightly above average. For the Heat, it was a huge anomaly, and that is exactly how you win a game when you are struggling.

Of the team's stars, neither team's "A" guy had a very good game. Kobe started out hot, but his shot selection in the 2nd half (only the crunch time portion of which has been previously mentioned) was not great, and he ended up 2-10 in the second half and 8-21 on the night. LeBron James struggled from outside all night long, despite being dared to shoot, and ended up 7-17, though he also provided rebounds (8) and assists (9) that were missing from Kobe's game tonight. The "B" guys didn't fare much better, with Dwyane Wade going 9-23 on the evening (though he scored 8 of Miami's 14 points down the stretch). Pau Gasol was "better", shooting 8-16 for 20 points, but the Spaniard only picked up 5 rebounds and, seeing as how offensive rebounds played a huge role in the Lakers losing the game, it's hard to label his night all that positively.

The "C" guys on the other hand, brought it hard. Give Chris Bosh some credit. Bosh's comments have made him open season for ridicule all season long, but after the loss to Portland two nights ago, he said that he needed to get the ball on the block more. Well, his money backed his mouth up, as Bosh was the best player on the floor tonight. He demanded the ball in the post, he attacked Pau Gasol with reckless abandon, and by and large, he got whatever he wanted: 10-17 shooting, 24 points, and game MVP honors. Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum played exactly the same role he's been playing for the last week, picking up 12 boards (out of the team's 37 total) and scoring 13 points on 5 shots. I've got a bit of an issue with how small that number is. It's great, awesome and impressive that Drew has decided he can be a game changer without scoring, but just because he doesn't have to score to influence a game, doesn't mean the Lakers shouldn't try to have him score now and then. The man is shooting a team high 57% from the field this year, so we might want to have him shoot a little bit more often.

Last but not least, the Laker bench was thoroughly outplayed tonight by their Heat counterparts. Miami has gotten next to nothing from their pine riders of late, so a breakout game was not unexpected. The Mikes (Bibby and Miller) both went 2-3 from three point range, and the Heat bench provided 22 points on 14 shots to supplement the first team's play. That's not exactly beast status, but compared to the 16 points on 17 shots provided by the Lakers bench, it did the job. Lamar Odom was the only Laker non-starter to scratch from the field as the bench combined to shoot just 24%. Shannon Brown in particular was a struggle. He missed all three of his shots, which were all pretty open if memory serves me correctly, and had a team "high" -14 on the night, despite only playing 11 minutes.

So the Lakers will once again remain unvictorious against LeBron James on the season, unless both teams survive the gauntlet that will be the playoffs in each conference to meet again in June. If they do, fret not about the fact that the Lakers haven't beaten this team yet. If the circumstances leading into tonight's game were different, tonight's result would have concerned me more than it does, but there can be zero doubt in anybody's mind that the Heat needed this victory more than the Lakers, and that need is exactly what propelled them to succeed. If these two teams do happen to meet again this season, I won't guarantee the Lakers will be victorious, but I will guarantee that desperation will not be a factor.











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