Heat 99, Lakers 90
This was a fantastic game, but it was also an incredibly weird one. On one end, the Heat couldn't hit anything outside of 15 feet, but nevertheless lived in the paint. On the other end, the Lakers ran their offense really efficiently ... except for the zillions of times they committed turnovers.
A few quick thoughts:
LeBron James is the best player in the world: Stating the obvious, but he was incredible. Thirty-nine points, seven rebounds, eight assists and shutdown defense on Kobe Bryant down the stretch. If he doesn't win MVP, it's Karl-Malone-over-MJ-in-1997 bad.
Kobe Bryant's defense was 2012-13 Kobe-esque: It's going to be hilarious when Bryant gets picked for his 100th straight All-Defensive team. Understandably, Bryant carries a heavy offensive load for the Lakers, but his defense on Dwyane Wade down the stretch cost the Lakers the win. There were two pivotal Wade hoops that the Heat would not have won without.
First one: with 6:18 left, the Lakers have just taken the lead. The crowd is going crazy. A stop and L.A. might have rode momentum all the way to a huge win. Instead, look at how Bryant defends Wade here.
Normally, this Heat play calls for Wade to curl up to the top of the key to catch a pass form Chris Bosh. I can understand Bryant cheating a little bit to cut off that action. But this much? That's just lazy. Wade practically has a wide-open lane to cut to the basket and get a layup.
Then, there was Bryant's defense on Wade's tie-breaking jumper with two minutes left that proved to be the difference. The Heat run a nice play to get Wade open off a double screen, but Bryant's own lack of recognition on the play allows Wade to get a much cleaner look than he should have.
If Bryant really wanted to beat the double screen, he would have fully committed to fighting over the top. Instead, he doesn't stay connected to Wade and runs right into both Allen and Chris Bosh. This is how not to defend off the ball when being screened.
Everyone has breakdowns defensively, of course, but these two were on huge plays where the defensive intensity needs to be dialed up. Instead, Bryant continued his season-long pattern of letting down his effort when his team doesn't have the ball.
Steve Nash had his problems: Nash had four turnovers, but it felt like he had a lot more. He really struggled against Miami's blitzing pick-and-roll coverages, and the Lakers were ultimately forced to use a lot of different methods to score in half-court situations.
The problem with Nash when he faces the Heat is that he likes to dribble-probe off screens, and you can't do that against Miami. They hedge so hard on the pick and roll that your best strategy as a point guard is to give the ball up immediately and rely on your other four teammates to beat the remaining three Heat defenders. Miami's strategy is perfect against ball-dominant guards like Nash, but it struggles against teams that have point guards that are willing to pass and excellent ball movement to take advantage of their scrambling defense (think New York and San Antonio).
If the Lakers somehow play Miami in a big playoff game this year, Nash will need to understand that he can't beat the Heat's traps the way he usually can. Get rid of the ball and good things will happen.
The Lakers did do some good things: In particular, their half-court defense was excellent. Take away the Heat's 25 points on 10-12 from the field on transition opportunities, and they scored just 74 points on 82 plays. Now, from that total, take away the Heat's 23 points on 19 non-transition plays in the fourth quarter. For the first three quarters, the Heat scored just 51 points on 63 plays. That's pretty impressive, even if Miami was missing some decent outside shots.
I know, it sounds like chopping down some numbers to find a positive, but the Lakers can build on this. They lost mostly because they turned the ball over a ton and couldn't stop LeBron James when it matters. The first is correctable. The second? You just have to shrug your shoulders.
This game was not a good undercard for the main event. The Clippers won mostly because even their depth is better than Minnesota's decimated starting lineup.
Detroit made this game interesting thanks to the speed of Will Bynum, but a quick Knicks run at the end of the third quarter put it back out of reach again. It's probably time for the Pistons to change their starting lineup, given that the unit of Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler, Tayshaun Prince, Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell has one consistent scorer.
And thus ended one of the weirdest losing streaks of all time.