Miami Heat had a reality check in their overwhelming 116-98 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat blew an early 13 point lead to trail by as much as 32 points, before settling for an 18-point defeat. Between the defeat and significant injuries to key players, the Heat are forced to adjust on the fly.
The Lakers seem almost impossible to beat, so does Miami even have a chance? In desperation mode any hope is better than none. Miami’s only bright spot after the first game suggest the Lakers don’t excel in one area: speed.
NBA tracking data for Wednesday’s game show the Heat’s average speed was 4.25 compared to the Lakers’ 4.04. The difference was significant on offense where Miami outran Los Angeles 4.83 to 4.10. The Lakers got back on defense faster though by 3.98 to 3.74. Even among all 16 playoff teams the Lakers were the second slowest at 3.98. The Lakers superiority in strength is offset by their relative lack of speed.
Their slowness showed up in the NetRtg stats for Miami. Top five players were Kelly Olynyk 42.3 (122.9 – 80.6), Kendrick Nunn 22.8 (112.8 – 90.0), Solomon Hill 5.0 (110.3 – 105.3). Goran Dragic -0.3 (109.4 – 109.7), Derrick Jones Jr. -6.3 (93.8 – 100.0). Olynyk is slow of foot, but in general the Lakers aren’t much faster. What doesn’t succeed against a youthful team like the Boston Celtics isn’t as serious of a problem for Olynyk against the older Lakers’ team.
Like Frank Vogel’s previous team, Indiana Pacers, the Lakers are bruisers up front. The physicality needed around the rim explains why Olynyk, Nunn, Hill, Dragic held their own since they can finish through contact, and absorb contact on defense. However Jones Jr. is the opposite case since he can beat most Lakers in the open court and around the rim with his speed.
Notably Points In the Paint, Fast Break Points and Points Off Turnovers are where Miami had an edge. The Heat were faster on offense when getting to the basket, as the bigger as the heavier Lakers scrambled to recover on defense. Even though Miami was better in those aspects, the rest of its game needs improvement.
The Heat is not going to outmuscle the frontcourt trio of Dwight Howard (265 lbs), Anthony Davis (253 lbs) and LeBron James (250 lbs). They also make a fearsome trio in transition when building up a head of steam. But they first have to get going before becoming unstoppable. By the same token putting the brakes on such massive size can cause problems. Hard to stop on a dime when you’re the size of a quarter.
Fearless leader Jimmy Butler said the Heat aren’t ready to give up if he has anything to do with it.
“We know that we can win. We do. But we know that we’ve got to play perfect, man. We know we can’t not rebound and not get back. So coming into Game 2, all the adversity, backs against the wall, yadda, yadda, yadda, we got to win.”
If the answers to stopping the Lakers were easy then they won’t be in the NBA Finals. After the first game seems like the Heat didn’t have any good enough answers to take down them either. So far this season Miami has dropped all three matches against them. We’ll see if the Lakers continue to be unstoppable for the Heat, even if Miami is shorthanded.