Lakers forwards Troy Murphy and Pau Gasol force Heat forward LeBron James… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
1. The Lakers played their best game of the season in their 93-83 victory Sunday over the Miami Heat. Lakers Coach Mike Brown hesitated to use this contest as a statement game. But he conceded it would give him a huge understanding of the degree to which the Lakers improved on offense and pick-and-roll defense. Well, this victory means a bunch beyond the following statistics. The Lakers (23-14) secured their eighth victory in the past 10 games. They picked up a marquee win after entering the game with a 1-7 mark against the Heat (28-9), Chicago, Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Orlando, Indiana and Philadelphia. The Lakers remained dominant with a 17-2 home record. It instead showed how the Lakers have finally progressed in a few areas noted below.
2. Kobe Bryant set the tone at the beginning of the game. Bryant can say he and Dwyane Wade remains friends. He can say he took no offense from Wade's hard foul in last week's All-Star game that gave him a concussion, broken nose and neck spasms. Let's be real, though. Bryant wanted and received the last word on the court. Of his 33 points on 14-of-23 shooting, he scored 18 in the first quarter by doing what he does best.
He drove past Wade on one dribble. Bryant burned Wade in the post. He nailed turnaround and baseline jumpers. Even when LeBron James and Shane Battier guarded him, Bryant still nailed contested shots. The Lakers should've kept riding his hot hand in the second half. But at least Bryant provided a great retort to Wade that fulfilled Bryant's thirst for dominance and helped the team's offense. His mid-range jumper also iced the game, putting the Lakers up 89-81 with 1 minute 5 seconds left. Bryant has scored at least 30 points in each of the past three games while wearing the mask.
3. Metta World Peace played out of his mind. OK, so it shouldn't be surprising that he played well on defense. When he guarded James, World Peace gave him little room to operate. He communicated well in switching out on both rotations in the paint and perimeter. World Peace cross-matched until the Lakers' backcourt and frontcourt switched on pick-and-rolls.
But to see him score 17 points on six-of-10 shooting was mind-boggling. World Peace went iso on Wade, hit a few turnaround jumpers that resembled Bryant and even threw down a one-handed fast-break dunk. It looks like World Peace has rounded into form within the past week.
4. The Lakers' strong defensive play dipped in the third quarter after a strong first half. Brown hardly sounded worried about whether his players would retaliate on Wade or even play too chippy. Turns out his optimism was well-founded. World Peace suddenly morphed into the old Ron Artest. He gave very little space for LeBron James to operate. He swiped entry passes. He looked aware switching on rotations. Same for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol in the paint.
But in the second half, everything changed. The Lakers allowed Miami to slash a 16-point lead to single digits for a variety of reasons. The Lakers didn't remain as tight on defense. Troy Murphy airballed a three-pointer, threw a horrible pass to Kobe Bryant and looked slow on defense. LeBron James (25 points on a 12-of-25 clip, 12 boards, seven assists) nailed jumpers and drives to the basket with ease. Gasol appeared overwhelmed when James defended him. But the Lakers' play turned around after James pushed Murphy to end the third quarter. It lit a spark, prompting Gasol to jaw with James, as the two each earned technicals.
Still, the Lakers didn't lose their composure. Aside from James' near triple-double, the Heat struggled offensively. The Lakers held Miami to a 33-of-88 mark from the field (37.5%)
5. The Lakers moved the ball well. Bynum (16 points) and Gasol (10 points) took advantage of Chris Bosh's absence by setting each other for lobs, going high-low and beating the Heat on the boards, 42-34. Steve Blake compensated for Derek Fisher's early foul trouble by organizing the offense, and finding Matt Barnes and Bynum open on lobs. The strong spacing helped Andrew Goudelock score seven points off a two-of-four mark from three-point range. Add in high-volume scoring from Bryant (expected) and World Peace (a surprise) and you have the Lakers finishing with 19 assists.