The Miami Heat played the LeBron and AD-less Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, and the Heat played like they were facing a weaker roster.
Issues can be discussed from different angles, but this game was lost at the point of attack defense plain and simple.
Some takeaways from this one…
#1: The Heat’s early lack of intention on both ends.
When the Lakers injury report was submitted late Wednesday afternoon, that was probably the moment when the Heat put their guard down. As LeBron James was ruled out, that’s usually the moment when teams play down to competition, especially when looking at this Lakers roster tonight. Yet Russel Westbrook and company came out firing, as the Heat were sleep walking on both ends. No intention on the offensive end in terms of getting into actions, as well as the shooting just not clicking for Miami yet again. The Lakers flurry of role players were also bursting past the Heat’s point of attack defense consistently, and rotations just seemed to be off. Just a very underwhelming first half to this game for the Heat, on a night where they needed to just take care of business from the jump.
#2: Tyler Herro seeing a similar coverage to the Hawks series.
We often look back to the playoffs last year when discussing coverages that Tyler Herro has seen at the highest level. We usually go to that Philly series, since that’s when he saw consistent doubles and blitzes off every pick and roll, placing him out of his rhythm. But the Hawks series was a different scenario. The Hawks plan was to place Delon Wright on Herro for every second of every game, and his one job was to not leave his side. That’s what the Lakers were doing from baseline to baseline tonight, mostly with Dennis Schroder actually. I honestly believe the blitzes will be an easier coverage for him to beat at this stage. This one-on-one, annoying box and one type of vibe seems to take him out of his usual comfort spots. It’ll be interesting to monitor the counters to this matchup type.
#3: Reacting over predetermining: a Heat offensive need.
As much as I talked about the Heat’s struggles, they were only down four at halftime. Once again, that’s not something to be proud of against this roster, but it showed they had to be doing at least “one” thing right. That was specifically reacting to the Lakers defense instead of predetermining their shot profile. The example of that was a certain Heat run in the second quarter, where it started with a switch and Bam seal, leading into an entry pass and post hook. The next play, they got a switch again, this time with Thomas Bryant onto Victor Oladipo. He slowly waited, then flowed into his pull-up from that left wing over the big man. That is reacting to what a not-so-good defense is giving you, instead of pressing too much. At times the Heat seem to make things too difficult on themselves, when the easier approach is sitting right there. But either way, this takes up back to the word of the season for Miami: consistency, or lack-of for better context.
#4: Jimmy Butler finding a third quarter advantage.
To start the second half, the Heat came out with a gameplan surrounded around Jimmy Butler in the half-court. Butler was being guarded by Pat Bev, meaning he just kept getting down to that bottom box and going to work. Post spin, over the top lob, jumper over the top. If you know Butler, you know he loves nothing more than going one-on-one with a smaller defender. He started the third with 4 straight field goals. After a timeout, the Lakers threw their counter punch. They were just going to begin peeling over that second defender early. Now Butler got into his dump off bag with Bam Adebayo settling around the basket for easy push shots and dunks. The Heat finally found a base. Shortly after, the Lakers made another adjustment to stop giving Butler guard looks, throwing guys like Tuscano-Anderson at him instead. Either way, it’s clear Butler has an on/off switch he can flip whenever he chooses offensively.
#5: Breaking down Heat-Lakers clutch time…
Under five minutes to go, the Lakers were up by 2 on the Heat. The Lakers continued to put Herro in the action possession after possession, leading to more Bam attention and a bucket inside for Thomas Bryant. Bam answers on the other end with a short clock with that face up jumper, but a response kept occurring on the other end in similar fashion, as the Heat’s first line defense couldn’t contain to any degree. After the Heat fouled Schroder on a three with over two minutes to go, that felt like the final straw, but Butler answered with a right wing three to put it back at a three point game. Fast forward to a minute left, Bam got a put-back to fall putting it back at a 1 point game, but like I said, we kept seeing them answer. Schroder got an immediate paint touch and got to the line. 3 point game again. A reviewed foul call eventually put Oladipo at the line, which he went 1 for 2. The Lakers response included another Schroder burst past Caleb Martin for the lay-in. Sensing a theme? The Heat lost this game simply off point of attack defense. The Lakers offense was surging, and three point shooting wasn’t even a part of their success. They were just walking into the paint with ease all night. Down to 15 seconds left, the Heat fouled Westbrook who converted an and-1 on the inbound. Ball game? Well Strus ended up hitting a triple on the other end with four seconds left to give some form of hope. 3 seconds left, Heat inbound full court, Butler got a pretty good look that came up short. Arguably the worst loss of the season for Miami…