The obvious answer is LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. LBJ hit from all over the court for 32 points on 12-18 shooting. DWade equaled his teammate in both array of shots and shooting mark of 12-18 for 30 points. They combined to shoot 67% from the field, contributing 58% of their team’s total scoring. Their synthesis and noteworthy performances surely influenced, but ultimately did not cause the Lakers to lose a chance to finish their 7-game roadie in style. The Lakers have themselves to thank for that.
Whether against a team at the bottom of the standings or the elites of the NBA, the Lakers’ consistency issues in two key areas, rebounding and turnovers, continue to plague their ability to win with regularity. The difference between notches in the win or loss column when facing a member of the elite usually comes down to one or two important moments. Unfortunately, the Lakers couldn’t weather those brief lapses in concentration and, for the second time this season, dropped a winnable game versus the Heat, 107-97.
Throughout the contest, the Lakers showed signs of finally performing on the court commensurate with their expectations. The ball mostly stayed in Kobe’s hands in the post, but he has been making excellent decisions as of late. Plus, as teams assault him with an array of timed double teams, isolation allows for wider lanes in the paint. Wider lanes equate to better shots, better floor balance, and less chances for misses to turn into highlight reel run outs by Miami.
The defense read and reacted, but they wouldn’t shut down the reigning champion Heat. Their dynamic duo of Dwayne and LeBron present serious problems. They are the collective reason teams lack success at their house, dropping only three games all season. They threaten a defense from all over the court. Locking down LeBron as he is in the midst of a mind-boggling shooting stretch, averaging over 70% per game from the field in his last four, isn’t the easiest task either. It is important to make sure the Heat work for every shot and to keep them off of the offensive glass, limiting the second chance threes they use to break backs. Limiting turnovers and staying even in the battle of the boards also keeps them out of the aforementioned open court, where they bury teams. The Lakers struggled again on the glass, trailing 33-19 heading into the 4th. But, they still remained close.
Their inability, however, to secure two defensive rebounds with the game tied at 71 near the close of the 3rd quarter gave Miami some breathing room. Joel Anthony out-positioned Earl Clark and collected a Ray Allen free throw line jumper that rimmed out. Understandable, considering the Lakers lack depth in the height department. But, Allen came up with Lebron’s missed one-hander off of a tip from Metta. The result? A 1 minute and 10 second possession that ended in a James And 1 off of a drive past Metta. The Heat would hold onto this lead for the rest of the contest.
Only down 74-71, the Lakers had a chance to recover and end the 3rd tied or ahead after Kob left Ray Allen in the dust along the baseline and pushed in a twisting fall away. LeBron missed the second of two free throws, a kingly gift. However, Battier beat Jamison to the ball and tapped it out. LeBron drained a three with 2.6 on the clock and extended the lead to 78-73. A few, simple box outs, fundamental plays that routinely go unnoticed because of their assumed execution, altered the scope of the game.
Yet, after a banked hook and an assist to Earl for three, Dwight helped cut the lead back down to two, 80-78, to open the 4th. Crunch time turnovers killed the Lakers in the final minutes of the last match up in LA. The Lakers kept the turnover number down, only committing seven over the first 3 quarters. Unfortunately, they bested that number plus one in the fourth.
Dwight turned it over on his next two straight possessions. The first came on a steal by LeBron and a near half court make after a foul by Blake to stop the oncoming freight train. The other an errant pass out of bounds along the baseline that jumpstarted Dwayne Wade to the tune of nine straight points. A case could be made that his scoring outburst was a result of Jodie Meeks guarding him. Regardless, Wade allowed LeBron a few extra minutes of rest on the bench.
He stole a dump down from Antawn into Dwight and ran it back up the court. He easily turned it into a pull up, seventeen-foot jumper that got Kobe up off of the bench to help Steve up off of the floor to the scorer’s table. He picked off the subsequent pass from Clark into Dwight and dribbled to the wing for a heat check three that missed. He rebounded Earl’s three attempt, a response potentially motivated by his previous turnover, and threw in an up-and-under layup for an And 1 after taking a wrist to the face from Dwight.
LeBron joined the MVP party at the scorer’s table and re-entered at the 7:15 mark. Kobe went right to work, finding Earl for his 8th assist. Then, Kobe proceeded to give it right back on two straight trips as well, the first transforming into a coffin nailing, alley oop jam from Norris Cole to LBJ to up the lead to 91-84. At 95-88, Nash also turned one over to set up another crowd-pleasing highlight for King James as he waltzed down the lane and threw it down, celebrating with a scowl for the fans. Three possessions later, down by ten, Kobe made the 8th and final turnover of the final frame. Battier intercepted a behind the back pass as the Heat doubled Kob at the top of the key. He chucked up a three, grabbed his own miss, and found LBJ for one last jumper. As well as they protected the rock early, they couldn’t contain the combustibility of their distribution melt down.
The Lakers let another one slip away. Even though it came against a superior opponent, they still mismanaged their efforts down the stretch and missed another chance to gain some ground in the race for the final playoff spot. Although the Grammy road trip remains a successful endeavor, this loss might loom as large as the philanthropy in Phoenix to open the roadie. A pre-All Star Break home stand presents a unique opportunity to rectify both. The Lakers can prove that they can play above their competition by controlling the Suns, and then win another “road” game at Staples against the Clippers, a team the Heat recently dismantled in South Beach. The simply need to box out and make the extra pass.