Chris Bosh LeBron James

Heat’s depth exposes Lakers’ serious lack of it

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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.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: