Tonight was a huge game for the Lakers, but they came out with their worst three minutes of basketball this season.
Four early turnovers led to four Miami dunks, and a quick 8-2 lead. Time out.
The Lakers would right the ship, and eventually lead 83-81, but they could not pull off what would have been their biggest win of the season.
The story of the game was definitely the Heat’s defense, which forced the Lakers into an unbelievable 16 first-half turnovers (the Lakers had just four in the second half). It seemed as though the Lakers were unaccustomed to the frenetic pace of Miami’s defense, and couldn’t make good decisions in the face of it.
It was clear that the Lakers’ wanted to get the ball into Howard in the paint, where he enjoyed a considerable-size advantage; however, Miami’s defense – in both aggressively double-teaming Steve Nash on the perimeter and persistently hounding Howard off-ball in the paint– prevented those entry passes.
When Howard did receive the ball down low, he was often fouled, but he could only convert on 5 of 13 from the line tonight. No misses were bigger than when the Lakers were down by two with 1:51 to play – Howard stepped to the line and shot 0 of 2, one of which was an air ball.
Kobe Bryant, playing in this 1,200th game, had a really bad night. At one point he was 3 of 17, before going on a bit of a run to finish 8 of 25 (32%). He wasn’t able to contribute much in other ways tonight, either, with just four rebounds, one assist and one steal, while turning the ball over six times. And his effort on defense was lacking tonight, too.
Steve Nash didn’t play badly but he clearly didn’t have an answer for Miami’s swarming defense. He finished with nine points on 4 of 8 shooting, and seven assists against four turnovers, all of which were committed in the first half.
Pau Gasol looked okay in his first game back after his concussion. In 25 minutes tonight he had 12 points (4 of 7), four rebounds, and four assists. Metta World Peace contributed 16 points (5 of 11), three rebounds, and three assists.
It should also be noted that LeBron James had 39 points (on 68% shooting!) and Dwyane Wade had 27 (on 55% shooting), and that none of their teammates reached double-digits. They both played like superstars.
Earlier in the day, I predicted the Lakers would win by 20 tonight. My thinking was that the Heat would have no answer for Howard in the paint.
In the end, though, Miami’s swarming defense kept the ball out of the paint most of the time, and when Dwight did get position, he was often fouled, and shot poorly from the line.
Lakers’ Player of the Game
No one played great tonight, but I don’t have any qualms giving Dwight Howard player of the game honors, even though his poor free throw shooting was costly.
Dwight scored 13 points on 4 of 7 shooting, and grabbed 16 rebounds in a game where no one else on either team grabbed more than seven. He had two assists and a block, and on a night when the Lakers lost by nine, Howard finished with a plus-minus of +1.
And this is my favourite stat of the night: On a night when the Lakers turned the ball over 20 times, Dwight Howard did not have one turnover in 38 minutes of play. No travelling, no offensive fouls, no getting stripped.
You can’t give him too hard of a time for his free throw shooting, because he was the main reason the Lakers were able to stay in the game as long as they did.
Tonight’s Top Two Tweets in my Twitter Feed
“D’Antoni on the Heat D: ‘They eat you up.’” – @mcten, post-game tweet
“Lakers have to use this to continue to build… they were right there at the end of the game. Have to come out strong and start a streak now.” – @Lakerholicz, post-game tweet
Sunday, January 20 at the Toronto Raptors, 10:00 a.m. PST