For the first time in nearly a month, the Los Angeles Lakers have lost consecutive games. On Saturday night, the Miami Heat rolled into Staples Center for an NBA Finals rematch and got some semblance of revenge in the form of a dramatic 96-94 victory.
The Heat jumped out to an early double-digit lead, and pushed their advantage up to as much as 15 in the second half. But the Lakers battled back in the second half, and even briefly took the lead in the third quarter. While the Heat soon regained the lead, it was always a bit tenuous, and their inability to put the game away almost came back to bite them. LeBron James forced a steal in the closing seconds to give the Lakers a shot to tie or win at the buzzer, but Alex Caruso’s effort wouldn’t go down.
Kendrick Nunn led all scorers with 27 points, Jimmy Butler finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Bam Adebayo put up 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Kyle Kuzma went for 23 points to lead L.A. in the scoring department, while LeBron James put up a near triple-double with 19 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
Here are some key takeaways from the Heat’s impressive win:
Heat starting to round back into form
After their surprise trip to the Finals last season, there were high expectations for the Heat this season. But due to COVID-19 and injuries, things haven’t gone to plan. Even after their win over the Lakers, they’re still well under .500 at 13-17, and on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.
The good news for Miami is that things are starting to look up. Jimmy Butler is back after missing 10 games, Goran Dragic is expected to return from his ankle injury after this road trip and they’ve won six out of their last nine games. We still aren’t seeing the best version of this team, but they’re a lot closer to that level than they were a few weeks ago.
One big reason for their recent turnaround is that they’ve been stellar on the defensive end. During those nine games, they’re allowing just 106.3 points per 100 possessions, and that’s tied for the second best defensive rating in the league in that span. Against the Lakers they showed their ability on that side of the floor, limiting their opponents to just 39.3 percent from the field.
Lakers’ offense struggles without Davis
Anthony Davis is one of the best defensive players in the league, but the Lakers are such a strong unit on that side of the ball that they feel Davis’ absence much more on offense. Not only do they miss his 22.5 points per game, but his ability to create his own shot and the attention he draws from the defense.
So far this season, the Lakers have posted a 115.3 offensive rating with Davis on the floor, and a 106.5 offensive rating when he sits. That’s the difference between seventh in the league and 27th. It certainly didn’t help that they were playing a great defensive team in the Heat, and were also without Dennis Schroder, but they looked a lot like the latter on Saturday night.
They shot a season-low 39.3 percent from the field, and just 28.9 percent from 3-point land. Sure, there were stretches of success when LeBron was running the show and dictating play, but all too often they had no answers in the halfcourt. Even at full strength they don’t have a ton of guys who excel at creating their own shot, and that problem is magnified when Davis sits.
Rough stretch continues for L.A.
The Lakers’ title defense started out in dominant fashion, as they quickly established themselves as the best team in the league early on. They started out 14-4, and were in first place in the loaded Western Conference. Since then, however, things haven’t been easy.
Even when they were winning over the past few weeks, it was a slog — nail biter against the Celtics, three straight overtimes, late comeback to beat the Timberwolves. Now Davis is out for the next month or so due to his calf injury, and they’re clearly feeling the affect.
They were crushed by the Nets, and now lost to the Heat for their first “losing streak” in nearly a month. They’ve dropped into third place in the Western Conference and have a tough run coming up with games against the Jazz, Trail Blazers, Warriors and Suns before the All-Star break.
On the bright side, we’ve seen how great this team can be, and the main thing for them is just getting to the playoffs at full strength. If they can do that, this little rough patch won’t mean a whole lot.