The Lakers win streak now stands at 7 games after a 95-80 win over the Heat on Friday night. The game was not always pretty, particularly as the offense sputtered for long stretches, but the team’s defense was dominant again — holding the Heat to 35% shooting, including 6-35 on 3-point shots, and an 85.1 Offensive Rating overall.
Despite the team’s overall issues offensively, the Lakers’ star duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis carried the day and were mostly unstoppable. LeBron scored 25 points on 10-19 shooting, including a blistering 4-7 from behind the arc. Bron also chipped in 6 assists, functioning again as the lead offensive initiator and getting the team into their sets to attack the Heat’s defense (more on them, in a moment).
As for Davis, he led the team in scoring with 26 points and only missed 6 of his 17 shot attempts. He also led the team with 7 assists while grabbing 8 rebounds. Davis carried the team offensively early, abusing Myers Leonard’s individual defense and scoring almost at will.
Davis’ early success as a scorer had the Heat rethinking their defensive strategy of single coverage, ultimately leading them to change up to play a zone defense. Considering the Lakers season long issues from long range, this looked to be a good approach, especially as the team’s guards were very quick to bomb away from distance in an attempt to get the Heat to again go back to a more traditional look. This approach, unfortunately, did not work as missed shot after missed shot led to Miami getting the stops they needed to get back in the game.
The Lakers, though, would soon figure things out and learned to play through the gaps and attack the middle of the floor to crack the code. Davis’ play here was particularly important, offering a huge target at the nail to catch entry passes where he could then make pass/shot decisions that continuously put the Heat at a disadvantage.
On one possession it would be a simple foul line jumper. Then a turn and face, one dribble drive, and finish at the rim. Then, after turning and facing and Heat recognizing the need to step up to defend a potential drive, Davis would lob the ball over the top to Dwight or JaVale. Later, as the Lakers found more of a rhythm against the zone as a group, it might be a guard flashing into the FT line area, getting the ball, and then hitting Davis cutting along the baseline for another finish at the rim.
Time after time it was Davis hurting the Heat’s zone and keeping the Lakers offense afloat on a night no one outside of LeBron could hit from distance.1Non-LeBron shooters only went 4-25 from behind the arc.
In the end, then, the Lakers were simply too much for Miami to handle. Offensively they finally figured out how to beat the Heat’s approach in order to create some needed separation on the scoreboard and defensively the team was contesting shots all over the floor and playing with an energy and attention to detail that epitomizes the team’s standing as the league’s best statistical defense. This is how you win. Again, it’s not always pretty, but you go to school to learn not for a fashion show.
And now, a few notes…
- JaVale McGee played his best game of the regular season. While his stat line mirrored many of his other games this season,2JaVale scored 9 points on 4-7 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds what made this game stand out was the effort and attention to detail McGee played with. In many games this season JaVale has too often showed sloppy technique defensively and a general indifference to doing the little things that would get him scoring opportunities that could help the team. Against the Heat, though, McGee set better screens, was more engaged and active on defense (he stayed with perimeter players on switches and was not as quick to open his hips when defending ball handlers in the P&R and allow penetration), and was rewarded with better effectiveness. In the 2nd half, Vogel said he stuck with McGee for a bit longer because he was playing so well. At the time McGee went out of the game, he was a game best +20 in the boxscore, which I think reflected his effectiveness.
- I noted the Lakers poor outside shooting in my main recap, but after the game Vogel expressed little concern. He instead said that his main focus is on shot quality, which he said the Lakers are doing well in. He said multiple times the Lakers “got good shots that (we) just missed” which is fair and true. That said, it’d be nice if the Lakers started to hit some of these shots sooner than later.
- I mentioned this in the recap to the Bulls game, but Jared Dudley has seemingly fallen out of the rotation. Against Chicago he only got a minute of burn at the end when the game was already decided. In the two games prior to that, he was a DNP-CD. That status returned vs. Miami. I’m guessing there will be a time when Dudley finds his way back to the rotation, but if the team keeps winning using the formula it is now, one has to wonder when that will actually be.
- Looking for another stat that speaks to the LeBron/AD dominance? Here you go: in the 25 minutes AD/Bron shared the floor, the Lakers had an Offensive Rating of 107.5, a Defensive Rating of 66.7, and were a +21 in the boxscore.
- More lineup fun: In the 17 minutes that LeBron, Danny Green, and Avery Bradley shared the floor the Lakers had a Defensive Rating of 35.0.
- Speaking of LeBron and defense, here’s a great clip of the level to which he played in this game:3credit @nbacommish17 with the clip
- Here LeBron communicates to KCP to switch, tags the roll man from his new help position as the defender who has responsibility for the player going to the corner, closes out hard on his man in the corner when the ball goes that way, then contains off the dribble, then jumps back out to contest a potential jumper from his man when he steps back after being contained. There’s an effort level here that simply has not been there with LeBron in the last few years and it’s truly great to see. It’s also raising the Lakers’ ceiling on that end of the floor immensely.
That’s it for this game, ya’ll. Have a good one.