When as many things go wrong as they did against the Heat and the Lakers get blown out on a Christmas for the second straight year, it’s difficult to find a place to start an analysis of the game. The Lakers simply ran into a team that’s playing much better than they are and the result was a 96-80 thrashing that has me wondering if it’s too late to get a memory eraser for Christmas ala Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Lakers were simply that bad today and the Heat were really that good.
Coming into this game, the Lakers gameplan surely revolved around making the Heat a jumpshooting team in the half court and limiting their open court chances by taking care of the ball and attacking the offensive glass. What resulted, though, was that plan not working on every level conceivable.
First of all, the Heat managed to shoot the ball well from the outside. They may have only made 9 of their 25 three point attempts, but Lebron James made 5 of his 6 tries and that’s all that the Heat needed to ensure that the rest of their offense would run smoothly.
With James bombing away with great success, the Lakers’ perimeter defense got stretched thin rotating to James where he could then become a playmaker for his team. He ended the night with 10 assists to only a single turnover to go along with his 27 points and 11 rebounds, consistently picking apart the Lakers defense with pinpoint passes to open teammates or getting his own shot off with relative ease as the Lakers scrambled helplessly to try and find the next open man.
And when James wasn’t doing damage, it was Wade or Bosh taking turns penetrating the Lakers defense or knocking down mid range jumpers. Wade worked the P&R at an expert level by either turning the corner against a soft hedge or splitting the double team when the Lakers’ big men stepped out too hard. He constantly found himself in the teeth of the Lakers defense where he either earned trips to the foul line, got an easy finish at the basket, or found an open teammate for an even easier shot. Wade finished the night with a line of 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists but was continuously in attack mode and had the Lakers D on its heels for most of the day.
Meanwhile Bosh seemed to take this match up personally as if he was out to prove an entire country of viewers that, he’s actually quite good at this game. He worked the edges of the Lakers D with his smooth jumper and then used his great first step to blow by defenders when they closed out too hard or tried to pressure him too closely after he’d made a catch and held the ball before making a move. Bosh was easily the best big man in the game, hurting the Lakers inside and out and grabbing key rebounds when his team needed them.
And while the Heat made it their mission to show that they’re a team to be taken seriously, the Lakers continued to stumble along, ultimately getting frustrated with their inability to generate any momentum. All game long finding a rhythm on offense was a problem as the Heat’s perimeter defense denied easy passing angles and forced post men to abandon solid position in order to find open space on the extended wing to make a catch. When the Lakers big men did catch the ball, they struggled to get shots off against the length of Bosh and Ilgauskus and never got it going to be a real threat.
Especially bothered by the Heat’s combination of athletic perimeter helpers and interior height was Pau Gasol. The Big Spaniard missed his first 7 shots and never really seemed to be an active participant in this contest. While some of his misses could be considered tough luck, his overall movement on both sides of the ball wasn’t crisp and lacked inspiration. Even after finding some semblance of offense in the middle part of the game, most of that success was predicated off his teammates setting him up and we all know that the Lakers’ offense is at it’s best when those roles are reversed. I mean, when Gasol has to be spoon fed baskets in order to get his offense going rather than him being the focal point that his mates feed off, the odds of the Lakers being successful as a unit on that side of the ball decrease dramatically.
What made this game even more frustrating though was the fact that Kobe Bryant, depsite pedestrian numbers of 17 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds, actually played very well. In the first half he set up his teammates beautifully on countless plays and was the catalyst for the offensive success that the team did have. Kobe’s aggressive post ups led to double teams that he passed out of brilliantly to hit open teammates that either got up good shots themselves or passed on again to a Laker that was in even better position.
The only problem was that the Lakers shots just weren’t falling with enough consistency to find a flow in the game. And without that ability to build momentum, the Lakers then started to press which ultimately fueled the Heat’s success on both sides of the ball. By the time the 2nd half came along, the Lakers looked little like a championship contender and more like a team running experiments to try and find anything that they could call a success. Ultimately they found some traction abandoning the Triangle entirely and going to Kobe/Gasol P&R’s but the Heat’s defense ultimately adjusted and that experiment also ended up being a false hope for traction. The game only snowballed from there as the Lakers then wilted when the realization set that their footing for success was false and that any hope of climbing back into the contest was far fetched.
In the end, the Lakers played a horrible game and the Heat played excellent. I’d say that I’m shocked by all this but based off how both teams had been playing coming into the game, the result shouldn’t really surprise though I know that we’re all disappointed nonetheless. For the past few weeks I know that I’ve been mostly positive about this team’s long term chances. And while my mind hasn’t changed about what this team can be, games like this do show me how far this team has to still go before they’re remotely close to being that contender. They’re not defending well enough to control games when their offense isn’t going well and, sad to say, their offense isn’t performing well enough to outright win games through scoring alone. So, what you have is close games against mediocre foes, and losses like today’s against the best teams that find their stride on both sides of the ball. So, there is work to do and, despite games like we’ve seen against the Bucks and the Heat, I expect it to get done. There’s simply too much talent on the court and the sidelines for it not to. But until we see the results, we stew. And another Christmas gets sidetracked by a bitter loss.