Despite a major disadvantage in turnovers (20-6), a rough shooting night from Kobe Bryant (8 for 25) and constantly varying rotations of late (Pau Gasol had just returned as a sub), the Lakers found themselves tied at 90 with the defending champion Miami Heat with 2:33 to play.
Then Dwyane Wade made a pull-up jumper, Dwight Howard missed two free throws and Ray Allen got a lofted jumper to fall over Howard’s outstretched hands to make it 94-90 with 1:30 to play.
The Lakers struggled to create good looks on the other end, with Steve Nash throwing up a desperation scoop shot around Wade and Metta World Peace throwing up a contested corner three, both near the end of the shot clock. Miami converted for a third straight trip when LeBron hit his 17th field goal in 25 attempts (39 points), then added an and-1 in the final seconds to cap a game-ending 9-0 run.
It was a reminder for the Lakers that while they’ve made progress, they have a ways to go.
“We looked a little bit like a team that was new to the situation,” said Nash. “We weren’t smooth and we couldn’t get a rhythm and I thought we could have made a lot more money out of a lot of situations over the course of the night that we will down the road, but tonight I think we showed our lack of common experiences.”
That’s the key phrase for this Lakers team: common experiences.
This season, L.A.’s top four players have been on the floor for only nine of 39 games. Nash has missed 24 (and a half), Pau Gasol 13 and Howard three (not to mention Steve Blake’s 32 or Jordan Hill being out for the season). Making things more difficult was the in-season coaching change, as the Lakers are still figuring out how to run Mike D’Antoni’s offense amidst constantly changing rotations due to the injuries.
The kind of defensive intensity the Lakers have shown for three straight games now was enough for blow out victories over Cleveland and Milwaukee, but the lack of offensive cohesion caught up with them against Miami’s swarming ball pressure.
“I thought maybe we were a little tentative, also they play at a speed defensively, they try to speed you up a little bit and maybe we weren’t used to it,” explained Nash. “I thought we were maybe just out-thinking ourselves instead of just playing and had a bad run there to start the game. I thought we grew a little bit but we have a lot of growing to do.”
Indeed, instead of knowing where to be once Miami blitzed Nash pick and rolls above the three-point line, the Lakers at times stood around. Instead of trusting where one another would move, they too often waited to find out, and turnovers were too often a result.
Miami’s top three players no longer have those questions, nor do those of teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Since the talent is in place, that’s the type of cohesion the Lakers hope they can find as the clock ticks on a season that’s almost halfway completed.
The Lakers have 15 games before the All-Star break to work towards that goal, and 10 of them will come on the road, starting with a three-game trip to Toronto, Chicago and Memphis.