One year ago, the table was flipped.
What held the Miami Heat back was a lack of depth — it was the big three and then little else they could count on. It haunted them in the finals against Dallas. The Lakers on the other hand had the sixth man of the year and while there were issues they were the team that could role out a bench that would pull away from yours.
Thursday night, it was Miami’s depth that blew the Lakers out of the water. Miami pulled away the first time the benches came in and controlled the game the rest of the way, winning by a 98-87 score that was not reflective of the butt kicking.
The Lakers did not get the ball inside enough to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to exploit their size advantage, and outside Kobe Bryant started off cold (1-of-8 shooting in the first half). Last season in stretches like this the Lakers counted on Lamar Odom to change the tempo of these games and he could. This season, Metta World Peace can’t do it. In this game guys like Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono got exposed when they came in.
Miami went on a 10-0 run in the first quarter then another 8-0 one early in the second to build a comfortable lead they never relinquished. They did it with balance — Norris Cole, Mike Miller and James Jones all knocked down shots. Sure, LeBron got his, but the Heat as a team were hot, hitting 8-of-11 from three in the first half.
For the Lakers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had 21 of 37 Lakers first half points and combined they shot 8-of-17 (47 percent), the rest of the Lakers were 5-of-25 (20 percent).
The Lakers lack of depth, particularly other guys who can create their own shot or a point guard to orchestrate the offense, means that if their big three do not produce, the offense suffers.
Credit the Heat’s defense for some of that, they suffocate space with their speed and athleticism. What’s more their help defense and rotations were sharp — Shane Battier got a lot of help from their big men coming over on Kobe. But the Lakers of a few years ago would have had counters to that.
Miami had it all going. LeBron James was 2-of-3 from three and had 31 points, but he also had 8 assists as the Lakers tried to throw the kitchen sink at him. Chris Bosh was knocking down the midrange and had 15. Even Eddy Curry got his first action in two years and didn’t play poorly.
Simply, the Heat looked like a contender — even without Dwyane Wade (out again with a sprained ankle). They had stars who played like stars, role players who stepped up and a team concept going on.
The Lakers, particularly on offense, looked like a team still trying to figure out how to use its strengths. And the experiments they tried in that regard Thursday failed. Miserably.