Game Grades and Reaction: Heat 96, Lakers 80

From the moment the 2010-2011 NBA schedule was released, the Miami Heat-Los Angeles Lakers showdown on this Christmas Day was circled on every basketball fan’s calendar. On mine, it was circled, starred, and circled again. I didn’t want to miss this game for anything. Well, the day finally came, and when all was said and done, the dangerous Miami trio–James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh–led the Heat to a blowout victory over the defending champs. After 48 minutes of basketball, I passed out grades to various players and aspects of each teams’ game (with a “B” grade meaning an average performance–I have a tough curve). Here’s how it all broke down…

Kobe Bryant:  B-

Mamba had an off night by any superstar’s standards. He got off to a rough start by going scoreless in the first quarter. In fact, Kobe didn’t net his first bucket until 9:56 left in the second quarter. Bryant finished only 6-for-16 from the field and 4-for-5 from the charity stripe for 17 total points. Interestingly, Bryant did well as a facilitator; he dished out 7 assists tonight on various drive-and-kicks and kick-outs from the low post. But on a night where the Lakers as a whole struggled to make shots, Bryant needed to carry more of the scoring burden for the team.

Pau Gasol:  C+

The big Spaniard got off to an even slower start than Kobe. Gasol netted his first basket with 5:40 left in the second quarter. Gasol’s struggles resulted from a combination of bad luck and highly-contested shots. While Pau finished 8-for-17 from the field with 17 points, his line does not accurately depict how badly he played. To his credit, Pau was active on the boards, pulling down eight. But, perhaps most telling, Pau only made one trip to the free throw line. I thought Gasol was bothered by Zydrunas Ilgauskas’s length and the big bodies of Erick Dampier and Juwan Howard down low. It was as if Gasol wasn’t expecting such a challenge in the paint.

Barnes, Blake, and Brown (Killer Bs):  C

The bench mob didn’t help the Lakers at all tonight. The three usually-dependable guys combined to shoot 4-for-18 for only 12 points (10 of those from Shannon Brown who collected meaningless points). Furthermore, when Ron Artest left in the first quarter because of foul trouble, it was Matt Barnes’s poor defense that allowed LeBron to get going. As for Steve Blake, I barely even noticed him on the court. He played 19 minutes, threw up five three-point attempts (bricked all five), and only had one assist.

Lakers team defense:  D

The Miami Heat ran pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll and the Lakers didn’t stop it once. It didn’t matter who had the ball (James or Wade) or who set the screen (Big Z or Bosh), the Lakers were slow to rotate/help and never stopped the ball-handler. Coach Phil Jackson recognized this–he said so himself during his interview before the start of the 4th quarter–but still couldn’t get his players to stop it.

LeBron James:  A

The self-proclaimed King dominated today. James finished with a triple-double, scoring 27 points (8-for-14), grabbing 10 boards, and dishing out 10 assists. He only had one turnover and added four steals. Perhaps the most impressive part of James’s performance today was his three-point shooting. By showing that he had the hot hand from deep (5-for-6 from beyond the arc), James made it a difficult night for the Lakers defense. With his unmatched athletic ability, a defense cannot afford to have James consistently hit outside shots. When he does…well, you saw what happened.

Dwyane Wade:  A-

The only negative on Wade’s day was his slow start from the field. Wade actually exploded once LeBron sat to start the second quarter. Wade’s one-of-a-kind penetration ability sliced up the Lakers defense. Whether he split a double team to soar through the lane for a jam, spun off a defender for a step back jumper, or drove in the key and kicked out to an open shooter, Wade proved to be a handful today. His great passing really stuck out as one of the big differences in today’s lopsided match.

Chris Bosh:  A

When the game started, it looked like Bosh and Lamar Odom were going to have a great battle for the entire game. But after the first two minutes, Odom cooled off and Bosh only got hotter. Bosh absolutely killed the Lakers with his jumper. He finished the game with 24 points on 11-for-17 shooting and 13 rebounds. He was active all night long. If the Lakers had any hope of winning tonight, they had to shut at least one of the “Big Three” down. Instead, they allowed all three of them to go off.

Heat team defense:  A

Miami entered this Christmas showdown as the number one ranked defensive team in the NBA, surrendering only 91.2 points per game to their opponents. Their team defense was the key in tonight’s victory as they held the Lakers’ strong offense to only 80 points. They held Kobe and Pau scoreless in the first quarter–has this ever happened? And they held the Lakers to only 36.4% from the field in the first half (40.5% for the game). The Heat defense played so well because of their team length. Their arms/hands constantly got into passing lanes to cause steals and they contested most shots to make the Lakers work for their points. To sum it up, the Heat recorded 9 steals and 4 blocks, whereas the Lakers had only 4 steals and 1 block. The Heat were more active and energetic, and it really showed.

Final Notes

Look, obviously, this was not a playoff game and it was only one game in the Lakers’ 82-game schedule. A loss near the end of December pales in comparison to a loss in early June. But let’s be real:  the Lakers players, the coaches, and the fans wanted to win this game. The crowd was very energetic and raucous early in the game, but that excited died as they slowly realized the Lakers were not going to be competitive today. Both teams wanted it; these are two teams at the top of the NBA totem pole with some of the game’s biggest superstars. There are no excuses for the Lakers’ performance tonight–they simply got out-played by the Heat. Instead of dismissing this loss by counting their championship rings or saying this was a meaningless game, the Lakers need to focus and fix this problem before the losing becomes contagious. They lost earlier this week by almost twenty points to a shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks team and then today by almost twenty to the Heat. There are plenty of problems, so let’s fix them sooner rather than later.

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