One step forward, two steps backwards.
Even without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers grit-and-grinded their way to a 112-109 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday behind a dominant 32-point performance from Dennis Schroder.
Schroder’s 32 points marked a season high, canning eight of his 15 field goals, using his speed and quickness to explode past the top layer in the defense to amass paint touches and fashionable offense in the game’s most crucial moments. He also had four rebounds, two assists and four steals, also playing phenomenal defense against Miami’s guards all night — specifically Tyler Herro.
Four other Laker players — Thomas Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Wenyen Gabriel and Austin Reaves — had double figures. Thomas Bryant and Russell Westbrook had 21 points apiece; Bryant had nine rebounds with one block, making nine of his 11 attempts; Westbrook was one of the Lakers’ most impactful players, adding eight rebounds, nine assists and three steals while logging a plus-12 plus-minus in 36 minutes. Reaves had 11 points while Gabriel had 10 on six shots.
Miami had a very uninspiring performance outside of Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. Miami shot 45.3 percent from the floor and 8-of-29 from 3-point range; outside of its two aforementioned stalwarts, it shot below 40 percent (19-50) and just 6-of-25 (24.0 percent) from distance.
Bam Adebayo posted his third-straight 30-point game, finishing with 30 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocks in 38 minutes. Butler added 27 points on 11-of-22 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Kyle Lowry and Victor Oladipo, who finished with 11 and 12 points, respectively, were Miami’s only other double figure scorers.
Ultimately, the Heat got embarrassed, out-hustled and out-classed by a hungrier Lakers squad without their best two players — in addition to Lonnie Walker IV, and Troy Brown Jr. for the second-half — and it was that way from the moment the game tipped-off.
Miami got off to an anemic shooting start, falling behind 40-29 midway through the second quarter. It eventually started finding its rhythm, but still had lethargic possessions on both ends and went into halftime still down 52-48.
Butler got off to a roaring second half start, scoring eight of the team’s first 10 points — all coming against Patrick Beverley. Butler tallied 13 third-quarter points — in addition to 11 more from Adebayo — to put Miami within one heading into the final period.
But the Heat, who led by as much as six with 8:09 left, couldn’t contain Dennis Schroder at the point-of-attack, even after he rolled his ankle on Adebayo’s foot midway through the final period. He scored nine of the Lakers’ final 13 points in the final 2:35 of the game to Miami in a hole that the oftentimes tougher squad couldn’t dig out of.
Miami entered the game winners of four of their previous five against the Timberwolves, these same Lakers (by 14, with LeBron James playing), Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. It wasn’t always perfect, but they were finally able to start figuring out combinations, actions and comradery as one. They were building momentum.
Wednesday marked the fourth game of its longest road trip of the season. Miami was even able to run out the same starting lineup for two straight games for the first time in nearly a month. But any momentum it built felt like it got shot down in a 48-minute nationally-televised window.
Now, they close the grueling road-trip against a struggling, yet capable Phoenix Suns squad before it enters a very tough two-month stretch. It’s not how one falls, but how they get up and respond — and we’ve seen them bounce back from adversity time-and-time against stronger competition in the past.
But Wednesday, Miami got completely outplayed. It resembled a group that lacked urgency, didn’t have enough in the tank and moved two steps backwards instead of another half-or-full step forward against an inferior foe.
These next few weeks will tell a lot, starting on Friday. Wednesday’s loss was disappointing, inexcusable and arguably their worst of the season. And I’m sure most — if not everyone — in the locker room felt a similar light.