Other than the laughing stock New York Knicks hosting the most dynamic Western Conference club in the Oklahoma City Thunder, there was one Christmas Day matchup that was expected to be a blowout of the ages. However, the Los Angeles Lakers played with heart and refused to let the Miami Heat embarrass them on their home floor.
The Lakers suffered their 16th loss of the season in a narrow 101-95 defeat to the Heat, and the reasons were quite evident.
Before we get into how Los Angeles could have prevented a holiday loss, it’s important to give recognition to the effort this team played with, knowing they were playing a Top three team in the league on a day that’s supposed to be joyful. Off the bench, Nick “Swaggy P” Young and Xavier Henry performed as if they had something to prove. Young led all Lakers’ scorers with 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting, while Henry added 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting along with five rebounds.
Young had a substantial impact in the third quarter, scoring 11 points, including two huge 3-pointers over LeBron James. One actually turned into a 4-point play for Young, which was yet another foul that James complained about. You’re used to that these days, though.
Jodie Meeks, who started at the shooting guard position next to the returning Jordan Farmar, scored 17 points while connecting on 4-of-10 3-pointers. In fact, the Lakers attempted an incredible amount of shots from 3-point territory on Wednesday, shooting 36 throughout the game. They didn’t necessarily die from the outside, however, as drilling 14 of them (38.9 percent) definitely contributed to the offense unlike anything else the Lakers decided to run. With the injury depletion the Lakers are undergoing this season, it was clear from the start that the only way Los Angeles was going to upset Miami would be from having a miraculous shooting day. Santa wasn’t that generous for the team D’Antoni suggested some fans should give up on.
For Miami, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh led the way with 23 points a piece, with superstar LeBron James adding 19. Wade was the only player in the game with over 10 made field goals (11) and the Heat shot 51.3 percent overall for the day. While making five less 3-pointers, a team field goal efficiency that good will propel you to wins against anyone.
So why exactly couldn’t the Lakers prove the world wrong with a win?
The lack of top notch perimeter defenders has haunted the Lakers this entire season, as they rank 28th in points allowed per game (103.3). Teams are finding it easy to attack the basket against Mike D’Antoni‘s unit.
Miami scored 58 points in the paint on Wednesday, compared to the Lakers’ 26.
Don’t grab your calculator, that’s more than half. Advantage Miami.
Wade and Norris Cole were able to get into the paint repeatedly, which equals bad news all around for Lakers fans. Given the perimeter shooters Miami has can get hot at the right moments, dribble penetration opened up shooters in the corner and on the wings. Chris Bosh, the savior of the day in my opinion, was prepared all afternoon long for drop off passes his teammates would find him on, and he did his job. We’ve learned that Pau Gasol is still capable of putting points on the board for the Lakers, but can’t slow down hardly any of his opposition.
Rusty Jordan Farmar
As mentioned, Farmar returned to the Lakers on Christmas after missing the last 10 games with a hamstring injury he suffered at the beginning of December. D’Antoni believed he finally had an answer at the point guard position, a spot he truly relies on to run his high-paced offense. Farmar was a bit rusty and disappointing, scoring just three points in 33 minutes. It wasn’t even thought that Farmar would stick around for that much game action in his return, but shot 1-of-7 from the field and 0-of-4 from 3-point range.
Farmar only collected two of the team’s 15 assists on the night, and committed four turnovers. The bright side for Los Angeles is that they don’t have to play Xavier Henry out of position as much at point guard, but just having Farmar back in the lineup isn’t something that can turn their season around into success before the All-star break. That will require a complete, healthy roster with Steve Blake (elbow) and Steve Nash (old) recovering, as well as Kobe Bryant reverting to his old form immediately upon return.
Before the game, Kobe Bryant expressed just how anxious he was to be on the floor against two of his fiercest rivals in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but not for the reason you may think:
“I was really looking forward to this game, to be able to measure where I was physically; especially in the time frame in which I came back,” Bryant told the media. “This was really a big measuring stick in terms of their activity, their speed, their size. I was really looking at this game as the game I would really be in rhythm, being able to measure what I can do and can’t do.”
Bryant always comes to play aggressively when his toughest individual competitors are on the floor, especially considering the Heat’s Big 3 have had the Lakers’ number for the most part, except for one incredible outing by Bryant in March 2012.
Words can’t explain how tough it had to be for Bryant to miss his first ever Christmas holiday game.
Knowing he had to remain in a suit and tie when his team cut the lead to four (96-92) in the final two minutes.
That’s typically his time to create shots and help the Lakers secure a victory. But Bryant will have to wait until his knee fracture heals, and rely on Nick Young to mirror his ways.