From Kevin Arnovitz, Heat Index: Bad news for the Heat: When the Lakers are fully healthy (read: Andrew Bynum), they execute the brand of pressure, ball-side defense that both Boston and Chicago deploy and that gives the Heat fits. Over the past five games, the Lakers have allowed only 94.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s astounding, particularly when you consider that stretch included both Oklahoma City and San Antonio. On Tuesday night, 50 of Atlanta’s 83 shot attempts came from 16 feet and beyond and it’s not like the Hawks were living at the line. Atlanta couldn’t poke the ball inside — neither on penetration nor by feeding the post. Right now, the Lakers’ traps have that old zip, while Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are moving with purpose — dropping back on pick-and-rolls to prevent the drive, and walling off the paint when the ball moves to the sideline. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant seems locked in, while Ron Artest has finally gotten the message that his presence on the wing is vital to what the Lakers do. The Heat have been too easily lured into long jump shots against pressure defenses, a potential hazard that could be compounded by that ol’ Lakers length.
From Ramona Shelbourne, ESPNLA: His story is too familiar. His team has neither shocked nor awed us. And so another player will likely be honored as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player while Kobe Bryant, arguably the greatest player of his generation, is left to stew privately and console himself with remembrances of how much better it feels to win these types of awards in June. A player with a better story, such as Chicago’s Derrick Rose. A player whose team has shocked us, such as the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire. A player who can’t help but inspire awe, such as Miami’s LeBron James. The MVP award is voted on by people who tell stories for a living. Basketball writers who look for drama and conflict in the games and people they cover.
From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The Lakers understand Miami’s pain. They felt it a few weeks ago. The Miami Heat has washed up on the South Beach shores, an icky mess that now gets the same reaction around here as finding a fly in an $18 mojito. The Heat’s morose postgame interviews are “SportsCenter” fodder almost nightly, with perennial All-Stars and their boyish-looking coach appearing gravely ill on daises across the country while trying to explain a five-game losing streak. What’s wrong with the Heat? The Lakers, Miami’s opponent Thursday, might have a few answers.
From Mike Trudell, Basketblog: On Thursday night in Miami, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will be looking to build on their best stretch of basketball, particularly on defense, of the season that has produced an NBA-best 8-0 record since the All-Star break. Prior to L.A.’s practice on Wednesday afternoon at Miami’s American Airlines Arena, many of the questions directed towards the Lakers dealt more with the Heat’s recent struggles that L.A.’s recent success, with Miami dropping five consecutive games to fall two games behind Los Angeles in the loss column. Bryant acknowledged that it’s “always tough” to go through such streaks, especially under a microscope, then explained how the Lakers have dealt with such dry spells.
From Dan Le Batard, Miami Herald: Here’s the résumé of an anonymous basketball team this year: Lost by 20 points at Charlotte. Lost by 19 at home to Memphis, after which the coach publicly ripped his star. Lost by 19 at home to Milwaukee. Lost four games in a row to ho-hum Houston, Memphis, Indiana and Utah. Lost on the road to godforsaken Cleveland. Lost at home to dreadful Sacramento, after which one of the starters reportedly wanted to be traded. The mutinous Detroit Pistons? No, the champion Los Angeles Lakers. Why did any of that happen? No idea. Haven’t heard a valid explanation from Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson or anyone else. To suggest that they are pacing themselves with veteran savvy and rather randomly decided that now is winning time conveniently ignores that the Lakers lost to discombobulated Orlando three games before winning time, lost to 26-37 Charlotte two games before winning time and lost to 12-51 Cleveland one game before winning time (this after beating Cleveland by 55 points a month before choosing this as winning time).
Fro Howard Beck, NY Times: The line between empathy and sympathy is subtle but significant, and for about a half hour on Wednesday the Los Angeles Lakers lived in the hazy space between the two. No other N.B.A. team could relate so well to the plight of the Miami Heat. The Lakers know the burden of stratospheric expectations and the powerful consequences of failure, even short-term failure. They have lived this drama themselves many times. But after five minutes of questions about the Heat’s hardships — the blown leads, the five-game losing streak, the merciless scrutiny — Kobe Bryant was done playing sideline psychiatrist. “It takes a little adjusting, I guess,” Bryant said of the bull’s-eye on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. “I don’t know, I’m still trying to kill people.”