Here’s a line you haven’t read this season: The Lakers could have won it. Okay fine, we’ve actually said that before…a lot, because goodness knows the Lakers have come close to winning a lot of games this past season but have always found a way to falter in the end. If we re-watch those 28 losses, I guarantee at least half of them were close to victories. The only problem is, moaning and groaning over what has already come to pass, doesn’t change the present, and at the moment, the Lakers are sitting in a deep hole from which playoff hopes continue to fall further.
Like their last meeting at Staples Center, the Lakers and Heat kept the game competitive until the last few minutes. Even without Pau Gasol, who contributed minimally in the last game anyway, Kobe Bryant and company kept the Heat defense on their toes, with Bryant continuing to dish, Steve Nash continuing to score and the Laker frontline of Dwight Howard and Earl Clark doing some damage on the scoreboard. But after tying at the half, and Miami taking a three-point lead after three quarters, things went south beach on the Lakers and they added yet another loss, 97-107.
First Three Quarters – It’s always hard to see the good in losses, but we’ve had to do it so often this season that sometimes a silver lining is all we have. Through 36 minutes, the Heat led the Lakers by just five points, 78-73. Four Lakers were in double figures and, despite allowing 54% shooting for the Heat, the visitors weren’t shooting an awful percentage at 47%. They turned the ball over just seven times (!) compared to Miami’s 11 turnovers, and were playing a good enough defense to stay close and keep it competitive There were 10 lead changes, 10 ties, and up to that point, the Lakers had once led by seven points and the Heat’s largest lead was five. Against such a formidable team, the Lakers weren’t in bad shape to make a run in the final 12 minutes to get the victory, but even despite shooting 67% to Miami’s 57% in the fourth quarter, and finally outrebounding the Heat, their 8-0 lead in turnovers prevented any such comeback.
Kobe Bryant – In an interview aired between timeouts/commercial breaks, Steve Nash (15 points on 3-5, perfect 8-8 from the free throw line) stressed the importance of doing what’s best for the team, even if it makes your game uncomfortable. He, himself, has given up a large control of the ball handling responsibilities to Bryant, and Bryant has given up his natural instincts to score to get the rest of his teammates going and to keep the defense guessing. Despite the loss, Bryant poured in 28 points on 11-19 from the field, handed out nine assists and grabbed six boards. With three other teammates in double figures, today’s loss wasn’t about Bryant trying to force his scoring, which is often the argument his detractors make. Bryant did it all today, but his teammates needed to do a little more too.
Earl Clark – Win or lose, this kid is never short on the effort, and today he went for 18 points on 8-17 from the field (17 shot attempts, second on the team to Bryant’s 19) and grabbed nine rebounds.
Dwight Howard – Howard did a lot of good things today, getting 15 points on 6-9 from the field and hitting 3-5 from the free throw line, but despite his nine rebounds, there was just something off-putting today about his demeanor. After a failed defensive assignment got Miami an easy bucket, Nash and Howard were seen having words. When the two nicest players in the NBA are having words, it’s never a good thing, despite it indicating communication on the floor. Moreover, Bryant and Howard didn’t appear to interact much today. This might just be an exaggeration from a viewer’s point of view, but it’s no secret the Lakers’ locker room isn’t in the most harmonious state.
Rebounding – The Lakers are third in the league in rebounding and the Heat are last. DEAD. LAST. With 38 boards in the game, Miami reached their average 38.9 rpg. The Lakers grabbed just 29 rebounds, despite their average being 45.4 rpg. In the end, both teams had 16 second chance points apiece, but with the Lakers asleep on the offensive boards, the Heat managed to outscore them 19-4 in fast break points.
Metta World Peace – Once the Lakers’ saving grace, MWP has become a liability on offense. Today he shot just 3-11 from the field and had zero rebounds. Despite expending energy defending Lebron James (which did nothing since James managed to score 32 points on 12-18), it’s still an unusual stat line for someone who puts in as much effort on the floor as World Peace usuall does.
Looking at the final box score, it wouldn’t be a far-fetched notion to think the Lakers could have pulled this one out. They shot 50% from the field for the game to Miami’s 55%. They shot from downtown at a much higher percentage (7-12, 58%) than the Heat (6-16, 38%). They attempted 12 more free throws and converted 77% (20-26 vs. 13-14 for Miami) of them. The points in the paint were identical at 46 points each. And before the final quarter, they only had seven turnovers to Miami’s 11. But they were just outhustled on the glass, they got careless in the end and the Heat took advantage. The Lakers may, indeed, hit 30 losses before they hit 30 wins, but we’ll just cross that depressing bridge if/when we get to it. 4-3 on this long Grammy road trip. Those gold and white jerseys can’t come soon enough.