The idea of what this series is vs. what many thought it would be has been turned on its head — particularly after the injuries suffered to Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo in game 1. After the Lakers took a 2-0 lead over the Heat and then, again, after the they took a 3-1 lead, many thought this series was effectively over. That every ensuing game would reinforce those thoughts of Lakers dominance.
Miami has had other ideas, though. And it’s a credit to their mental fortitude, their competitiveness, their execution, and their talent that they’ve converted those ideas into a body of work, into wins. And those wins have only emboldened their belief in themselves that they not only belong on this stage and in this series, but that they should win it all outright.
What’s also clear is that the Lakers are not going to take that belief from them, regardless of how well they play. That was probably never going to happen at all, but the way this series has unfolded made it certain. The Heat have done too much, hung too tight, made things too hard for the Lakers. In the last three games they have a 2-1 advantage, they have the momentum and will try their best to ride that all the way into and through tonight’s game. And, if they get their way, into a game 7 (where as the saying goes) anything can happen.
As Phil Jackson used to famously say, though, “Mo is a bitch”. Momentum is not faitful to any one team; momentum will take sides whenever it pleases and change allegiances. The key to getting good old mo back, however, is doing the actual work. As we’ve been saying all series, there are no shortcuts that can get you there faster, no secret passage.
As this series has gone on, what’s become strikingly apparent to me is that the burden on these Lakers is much more mental than physical. Don’t get me wrong, the latter matters and there’s a good chance that AD will need to play through a real foot ailment and him and Bron may need to play something like 44 minutes each. But, where this series is being won and lost is by how committed either side is mentally to doing the right thing as often as its needed.
In both their losses, the Lakers have lost that mental edge. As the Heat have run them through multiple actions, forcing them to keep track of every player, every help situation, every screen, every handoff, the Lakers have not kept up. They’ve lost relocating shooters, shown on the wrong side of a ball screen, had two defenders rotate to the same Heat player. These things need to be cut down on considerably from the level they were in game 6.
Can the Lakers do it? I’m honestly not sure, but I’m optimistic. They’ve shown they can for long stretches each game, but simply haven’t for as long as they’ve needed to in the ones they’ve lost. So, tonight, if there’s one thing I’m looking for above anything else, it’s how dialed in they are and how many defenisve mistakes are they making.
The Heat are going to put you through an endurance test mentally on each possession. They want to wear you down and the longer things go, the more mental stamina you need to beat them. With physical fatigue also becoming an issue, staying sharp mentally is even harder. That said, the Lakers just need to lock in as best they can and cut down on the errors. Easier said than done, I know. But it can be done.
From a strategic standpoint, there’s a few things I’d like to see done better and/or adjusted to. In no particular order:
- Find ways to get through and/or under screens against Jimmy to keep him further out on the perimeter. Miami did a good job of altering their screening angles and it really did allow them to free Butler up. Vogel needs to make his own tweaks to ensure he’s skewing things towards the matchups he wants rather than letting the Heat dictate them.
- If the Lakers play Dwight this game, they need to look for him on his duck-ins for lobs when the Heat show early help vs. Bron and AD. Just throw the pass and see where it gets you. If you have a turnover, you can go away from it after that. But if Dwight is able to make the catch, he’s going to finish some easy shots and he’s going to draw some fouls. I think the Lakers need to get more diverse in their offense and this is a play that’s been consistently there, but has rarely been sought out.
- Communicate on the Heat’s multi-direction screen actions. In game 5, the Heat ran high P&R’s with the option for the ball handler to go in either direction with a guard coming up on each side to give Jimmy a choice. The Lakers did not do well defending this set and it was mostly because they did not communicate well. Again, this is a mental test, not a physical one. They need to be prepared, understand their options and coverage, and then communicate to ensure proper execution.
- Hit shots. I believe in you, Danny Green. I believe in you, Kyle Kuzma. I believe in you, Markieff Morris. You’re good players and are more than capable of hitting the shots you’re getting. Let’s get it tonight.
- Continue to push the pace. Run as much as you can on defensive rebounds to put pressure on the Heat’s guys to matchup while still protecting the paint.
- Rebound, rebound, rebound. On both ends. Go to the offensive glass and control the defensive glass. I especially mean the guards, here so get in there and help out, Rondo and Caruso. They need to help on the glass more than they have been.
Lastly, I’m not sure how healthy AD is or if one bad hit or wrong push off will hamper him further or really limit him to the level he was limited late in game 5. I appreciate him gutting it out and trying to play hard. With any uncertainty around him, though, it’s an opportunity for others to step up in support of Bron, in support of the team.
A strength of this team all season has been their ability to find a different role player nearly every night to have a high level contribution. Tonight would be a great night for that to be true again.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on ABC.