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Three takeaways from the Lakers’ Game 2 win over Miami

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The Heat simply can’t defend these Lakers. That could ultimately decide the NBA Finals.

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2020 NBA Finals - Game Two Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Lakers took a 2-0 lead for the second straight series, maintaining control against the shorthanded Heat in Game 2 to earn a 124-114 win. Here’s what we learned from the Lakers’ latest victory.

It doesn’t matter if the Heat are in zone or man: The Lakers will still score

A major storyline heading into the NBA Finals was just how much zone defense the Heat would play given their success with that strategy in the conference finals against Boston. It also made some measure of sense to block out the paint against the shooting-challenged Lakers, who lead the league in shots at the rim and shooting percentage at the rim during the playoffs.

But Game 1 featured mostly man-to-man defense, and LeBron James carved the Heat up. He hunted weaker defenders mercilessly, attacking Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson repeatedly on switches. The Lakers correspondingly lived in the paint and put up a 118.4 offensive rating before garbage time, per Cleaning the Glass. The league average is 112.0 during the postseason. After that pitiful defensive performance and with Miami down its best defender (Bam Adebayo) in Game 2, the Heat were expected to come out with a heavy dose of zone defense. This time, the Lakers put up an offensive rating of 134.8.

Sure, the Lakers were goaded into a higher than usual volume of threes, as they attempted an NBA Finals record 47 3-pointers in the game. The Lakers were also limited to 17 free-throw attempts compared to 34 for the Heat due to taking more jump shots. But they also rebounded 38.5% of their own misses, which gave the Lakers 26 more shot attempts than Miami. When they did get into the lane, they scored with remarkable efficiency, converting 28-of-38 shots in the paint.

The Lakers have three players who are impeccably suited to beat a zone. If LeBron James is running point, he can easily enter a pass into Anthony Davis at the high post, where Davis is a threat to score, kick out to a 3-point shooter, or lob it to a center behind the defense. James can also use a high screen to drive into the paint, which he did with regularity.

If Rajon Rondo is in the game, James can set up in the high post and do everything that Davis does. Rondo and James are masters of using ball fakes to tilt the defense and get corner 3-pointers in rhythm rather than pull-up threes above the break. Rondo even served as a spacer on several zone possessions, nailing three 3-pointers from the wing, because Playoff Rondo does what playoff Rondo does.

Look how easy it is for the Lakers to score on the zone when they get the ball in the middle of it.

The Heat aren’t going to win if this keeps happening.

Anthony Davis and LeBron James are wrecking balls.

Five minutes through the third quarter, this was going to be a section solely about Davis after he hit his first four shots, each of increasing levels of difficulty, and then had two silly tip-ins on missed jumpers by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Let’s watch those put-backs again.

Davis made 13 of his first 14 shots and finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. But Davis was actually outscored by James on the night, who totaled 33 points in addition to his nine rebounds and nine assists. At this point, the Finals MVP race might be more competitive than the series itself.

Davis had 30 points through three quarters, but the Heat apparently were tired of letting him burn them, so they made a more committed effort to put a body on him in the fourth, which allowed James to take control. 10 of his 33 points came in the final frame, and he would have had more than one assist had the Lakers hit some wide-open threes. James was firmly in control of the game, keeping the pace slow so that Miami couldn’t get out in transition and getting quality shots for the Lakers on most possessions. He didn’t turn the ball over once

My favorite play at the end of the game was Davis and James playing volleyball with each other on the offensive boards after James once again powered his way into the paint. Miami can’t stop this.

The Heat are just too small, and the Lakers — particularly their two superstars — are too strong.

The Lakers need to tighten up their defense, particularly on Jimmy Butler.

With all the offensive pyrotechnics, it would be easy to assume that the Lakers cruised to a victory. But the Heat were actually within single digits at one point in the fourth quarter, and that’s because they scored almost as easily as the Lakers. Meyers Leonard replaced Adebayo in the starting lineup, and Kelly Olynyk took all of the backup center minutes, so Miami had five-out spacing for most of the game.

The Lakers were not dialed in on defense for long stretches in Game 2. The Lakers were slow on closeouts, forcing them to fly by, allowing the Heat to drive into the paint. That resulted in lay-ups or lots of fouls — the Lakers committed 26 fouls as Miami took 34 trips to the free-throw line. The Lakers were also thrown out of sorts when the Heat bigs slipped on the pick-and-roll, forcing L.A. into scramble mode as each player tried to rotate back to his man.

Jimmy Butler was particularly outstanding, as he was aggressive both to score and to create for his teammates. He had a somewhat quiet Game 1, and he looked noticeably less mobile after injuring his ankle before halftime, but he looked completely healthy in this contest. He scored 25 points but he added 13 assists, serving as the de facto point guard without Goran Dragic available. His constant forays to the rim earned himself 12 free throws but also got his team into the bonus early, giving them another avenue to score efficiently.

The Lakers have to be more disciplined on Butler’s drives moving forward in this series, but it might not matter if the Lakers continue to torch the nets on offense themselves. The story of these past two games has been Miami’s inability to stop the Lakers no matter their scheme, and that means the Lakers can still win despite lapses on defense. But this team has prided itself all season on its defensive identity, and that’s assuredly what the focus will be on heading into Game 3.

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