After the Lakers blasted the Heat in game 1, almost universal response to that win was “it’s over, just crown the Lakers already”. There’s layers to coming to that conclusion, some of which I agree, some I do not. But, I think the major issue facing the Heat as the we begin our analysis for how game 2 could play out, it’s the injuries Miami suffered Wednesday night.
Goran Dragic has a torn plantar fascia and while the severity of the tear will influence his availability and effectiveness the rest of this series, the injury is serious and it could defitely mean his Finals are over. Bam Adebayo is dealing with a strained neck, and has been ruled out of tonight’s contest with hope he will return Sunday. Jimmy Butler rolled his ankle pretty severely, and while he stayed in the game he was clearly hampered.
These are the Heat’s 3 best players, their most important players. Dragic paces them offensively, offering the zip and downhill work off the dribble that counters their shooting threats. Bam is the fulcrum of their ball screen and hand-off attack on one end and their defensive anchor on the other. Butler is the team’s do-it-all wing who does not rattle and embodies the toughness and “roll the ball out and we’re ready” mentality.
Being down two of those guys and with the 3rd one wrong plant off the foot away from a re-tweak, there’s real issues to overcome on both sides of the ball for Miami. Can they counter? Can their backups muster enough production? We’re about to find out.
I expect three players to take on bigger responsibility with Bam out and Dragic very likely to be (at the time of this writing, I’ve not seen confirmed reports). Kendrick Nunn, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Herro will all be asked to do more, particularly on offense.
Nunn had a good 2nd half in relief of Dragic, but did his damage in a game that was no longer competitive. Olynyk did well in his shifts too, spacing the floor and attacking closeouts off the dribble offensively and mostly serving as a boxout guy defensively against LA’s bigs. Herro played poorly, mostly missing shots and then getting abused by LeBron as his personally chosen Tribute in the NBA Finals version of the Hunger Games.
Should these three actually take on bigger roles, the Lakers must tweak some of their defensive focus. They’ll need to play for the pick and pop much more vs. Olynyk and be more prepared for Nunn’s specific type of score first game. The Lakers can handle these types of approaches, but their coverages must adjust to new personnel. I expect them to be ready, but I also expect some feeling out to take place which could lead to some mistakes.
Another player to watch out for is Duncan Robinson. The Heat sharpshooter only took 3 shots and did not score. I can guarantee you his head coach and teammates were in his ear telling him that he needs to be more aggressive, even if it means forcing the action. The Lakers must continue to mark him and make his life hard. No free looks for him, no chances to find a rhythm. When teams have their best guys go down to injury, it can inspire freedom in role players to simply let it fly. And with a player like Robinson — or Herro, for that matter — this can be dangerous. Keep smothering them.
Offensively, the Lakers must also be prepared for more adjustments from the Heat defense. When Erik Spoelstra watched the game 1 tape, I’m sure he saw what most everyone else did too: his team switched entirely too much and entirely too easily. LeBron was able to point out any individual defender he wanted to attack, tell whatever Laker teammate that guy was guarding to come screen for him, and then attack him off the dribble or in the post. He did this over and over again and Miami had no answers.
I expect the Heat to try to avoid switching as much this game. I think they’ll try to hedge and recover, really try to get under ball screens in order to meet Bron on the other side of the pick, and only switch as a last resort — particularly without Bam there as a helper lurking. I also expect the Heat to play much more zone than they did in game 1, trying to find ways to disrupt the Lakers flow and bait them into taking quick shots from behind the arc.
The Lakers must continue to work through these Heat adjustments and not end up settling for the first, easy shot. So, while it’s fine if Bron shoots some jumpers when defenders go under screens or it’s fine of KCP/Green/Cuz/Morris take an early clock 3, it all needs to be done in moderation. The Lakers goals offensively should remain the same: punish the smaller defenders the Heat put on the floor by targeting them relentlessly.
The Lakers must also continue to try to push the pace. They must remain aggressive defensively, trying to force turnovers in the process. They need to run off Heat misses and force them to matchup in early offense — particularly when they’re playing zone. No matter if it’s LeBron or Rondo or Caruso as the primary ball handler, get the ball up the court quickly and force the defense to play from a scramble. Good things will happen.
Also, continue to feed AD as much as you can. Force them to double him, force them into scramble situations as much as possible. If they don’t double, AD can cook in single coverage. So, either way, you can generate advantage. But he needs to see the ball to make it happen.
Lastly, in a game against a weakened or shorthanded opponent, the burden shifts to you to keep focus and motivation. The Lakers, then, cannot look at the Heat as some team that’s missing pieces, but instead a team that stands in their way to going up 2-0. Nothing beyond this game is guaranteed — not the injury situation, not the effectiveness of any of the players who are in there now. Take it to these guys and do not let up. I know that’s hard mentally, but it’s what is required. Find the right focus and motivation and carry it through.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on ABC.