Dwyane Wade. That misplaced "Y" only makes me love him more.
LA Lakers 87, Miami 89
I’m about to say something really strange, but I’m not even mad about this loss. Was this a team we should have beaten? Yes. Even on the road? You betcha. The close finish despite our sluggish offense proved that it was winnable, and you have to believe that without any number of our – wait for it – 21 turnovers, we could have easily got the W here.
And still I’m not upset. Maybe it’s because it was Dwyane Wade, whom it may be physically impossible to dislike. He is easily the most congenial superstar in the league, with a very high likability:talent ratio. That is rare indeed, considering what rat bastards most of the league’s elite players are and have been. For proof, look at the Lakers’ main man and the guy he aspires to become, the great MJ. There seems to be something about achieving at the highest possible level that demands vast quantities of asshole-ishness, and the best players usually have it in abundance. That Dwyane Wade is still a complete sweetheart speaks volumes on him as a person.
Enough gushing, on to the game. The story of the night was the turnover. We are right around the middle of the NBA in turnovers a game, and we were well over our average tonight. If not for all the TOs, we would have taken a decent lead out of the first quarter. Instead, we were lucky to come out of it tied with Wade having gotten the better of the marquee match-up in the early going. We were outplayed early in the second, but scrappy hustle defense and a more steady offensive approach fueled a spurt that got us the lead midway through. There were a couple poor fast breaks, but overall we weren’t forcing it and cleaned up a lot of the turnovers. as an offense, they team was taking what was there rather than running ahead with one thing in mind. On defense, they were moving their feet, drawing offensive fouls, deflecting balls, and contesting shots. It wasn’t exactly suffocating, but it was a marked improvement from what we’ve seen from them lately. Never let it be said that I don’t give credit where it’s due.
But of course, we then reverted to our old tricks. After building up an 8 point lead, we gave up a lay-up on defense then turned around and threw it away on offense. The resulting possession resulted in second chance points for Miami after we failed to nab two defensive rebounds. Poor offensive execution helped them get the rest of the way back as everyone sat around and watched Kobe isolate on the wing, Pau missed a sitter, and we committed some more turnovers. Just as in the first half, instead of going to the locker room with a solid lead, we left the court even yet again. Despite this, it was all in all a pretty good first half performance on the road. If not for the TOs, I might even have called myself impressed.
The Heat came out blazing in the third and finished it with a 12 point lead. So to start the fourth quarter, Phil trotted out Farmar, Sasha, Radmanovic, Ariza, and Bynum. I literally did a double-take and wondered what he was thinking. Obviously, Phil knows way more than me, because that seemingly shallow line-up played outstanding and cut the lead down to six. He must have really gotten on them in the break between quarters because they came out playing much harder. Everyone just looked half a step quicker on defense, although we couldn’t capitalize because of some missed shots. He only gave in an reinserted the starters after a couple defensive breakdowns. Because while this group had plenty of energy and created some turnovers, they were not as disciplined and so gave up a few easy shots as well.
We finished out the game in fine fashion, eventually closing to within four. Some missed free throws by Miami gave us a couple chances to move in for the kill, but we couldn’t quite pull it off. We ended up with the ball down by two with 21 seconds left, but some never-say-die defense by the Heat led to consecutive blocked shots, including one which might have been called a foul on Wade against Gasol. Pau was fouled on the resulting inbounds but only made one of two free throws, allowing Wade to up the lead to 2 on his own split at the line. For the final possession, we got the ball to Kobe, who dribbled across the lane and pulled up for a fall-away on the left side. It was well defended by Marion, but it was still halfway down before deciding to rim out. All Kobe could do was smile, shake his head, and walk off the court. Which was basically what I did at home, with opening up the laptop replacing the court exit. It’s equivalent, right?
There were a number of troubling elements tonight, but this is not the kind of loss that spells emergency to me. In fact, they’ve had a number of wins that were more worrisome to me. Tonight was just one of those nights on the road. They battled, they worked, but the game plan just didn’t come through for them. The valiant effort down the stretch made it more heartbreaking but also more acceptable because you know they gave it all they had. Aside from Kobe, who doesn’t seem to believe lately that he has to play within the offense, they tried to do what was laid out for them. They were frustrated, though, by stubborn defense by the Heat. Miami’s front line is notoriously small, with no one above 6’9″, yet we still couldn’t get the ball into Gasol or Bynum in the post. They knew they couldn’t match up with our big men, so they just worked like hell to keep the ball out of their hands. As with the loss to the Pistons, I feel like this one will pave the way for future strategies against us, and it will be up to Phil and his coaching staff to devise a plan for how to deal with defenders fronting the post. It’s not unstoppable by any means, but because we didn’t see it coming it stifled us tonight.
Despite the loss, I still have some positives to take from this game. For one, the defense is looking better. We still swarm at inappropriate moments and positions, but it happens less frequently and we were quicker to find our men on the rotation. Another big plus was the responsible play by our bench players. I don’t know what all went on in that meeting between Farmar and Jackson, but whatever it was went a long way toward calming him down. Jordan seemed to have gotten some good clarification on his expected role, and he both executed and defended well, although he still can’t make a lay-up to save his life. Ariza was another improvement. On offense, he sat back and took the chances that fell to him with no hesitation and didn’t take ill-advised shots. His defense continues to impress too. Toward the end of the game he matched up with Wade a few times, and, despite picking up a couple fouls, I thought he did very well. He tripped him up, knocked the ball away, and generally created drama for the Heat. I’d like to see him taking on the opponent’s big gun whenever we don’t want Kobe getting too tired or picking up fouls. He seems built for the role.
It’s a tough start to a grueling road trip – four games in five nights – but at least the effort was there. You’re going to have games like this on the road, but we seem to be moving in the right direction. At the end of the day, I’d still take an ugly win over a reassuring loss, but I’m not going to sweat it too much.
Tomorrow we have the Magic in Orlando, who are coming off a big win over the Spurs on Thursday. They have a surprisingly good record at 20-6 and are leading their division by a good margin. Between Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard, we have plenty to be worried about. If our defense can play like tonight and if we can get back to our usual offensive clip, I still think we have a good shot. At least I hope so.