8:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Lakers 3.5-, Over/Under: 208
Though they last met just over four months ago in the 2020 NBA Finals, it feels much more recently that the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers crossed paths, but tonight they meet for the first time since the latter hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy though this time it be from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. We’d love to say “my, oh my what a difference a year makes” but in reality it hasn’t been nearly that long ago for the Heat (12-17, 11th in Eastern Conference), who went from being a surprise representative in the Finals to yet another team that has been beset by injuries and COVID-19 in what can only be branded as a disappointing campaign thus far. For a variety of reasons, Miami has been unable to build much momentum throughout the first twenty-nine games of the season as their rotation has been decimated for long stretches due to crushing injuries and an outbreak of the virus, all the while their competition in the East have only strengthened themselves. So let’s take a moment to run down the players that have missed time thus far, shall we? Erik Spoelstra has been without (veteran Guards) Jimmy Butler (19.1 PTS, 44.0% FG, 16.0% 3FG, 7.8 REB, 7.7 AST, 1.9 STL, 23.8 PER) and Goran Dragic (14.4 PTS, 45.6% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 5.3 AST, 0.5 STL, 13.4 PER) for a combined twenty-four games already, while (unheralded Sophomores) Tyler Herro (17.4 PTS, 45.2% FG, 34.4% 3FG, 6.2 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.5 BLK, 12.6 PER) and Kendrick Nunn (13.8 PTS, 471% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 12.2 PER) have missed eight outings apiece. Furthermore, their biggest Free Agent acquisition, (veteran Guard) Avery Bradley (8.5 PTS, 47.0% FG, 42.1% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 10.4 PER), has missed eighteen of the last twenty-one contests due to COVID-19 and now a strained calf muscle, while (reserve Center) Meyers Leonard (3.3 PTS, 42.9% FG, 42.9% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 0.7 AST, 6.6 PER) participated in just three games before succumbing to a season-ending shoulder injury. Needless to say, it’s been a hard season for the Heat thus far, and it absolutely shows in the numbers; a very perimeter-oriented team, Miami has floundered on the offensive end of the hardwood with so many Guards missing time, averaging a miserable 107.2 points per game (27th Overall) on 46.5% shooting from the field (15th Overall), including 35.2% from beyond the arc (24th Overall), while dishing out 25.9 assists (9th Overall) in comparison to committing a dreadful 16.5 turnovers (30th Overall). That last figure reflects their poor play in the Backcourt, for Spoelstra has been forced to rely upon players who aren’t necessarily comfortable handling the basketball to initiate the attack, turning it over on an NBA-worst 15.1% of their possessions (30th Overall). (Versatile Big) Bam Adebayo (19.8 PTS, 57.1% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 9.3 REB, 5.5 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.0 BLK, 22.5 PER), who has been one of the few healthy cogs in the machine, has assumed much of the playmaking duties with so many of the Guards out of action, logging a career-high 5.5 assists, but pulling him away from the rim has only made this team look even smaller, particularly when you that they’ve been one of the worst rebounding sides in the Association; the Heat rank twenty-eighth in total rebounding (42.3), while sitting at next-to-last in offensive rebounding percentage (17.5%) and twenty-first overall in defensive rebounding percentage (77.0%). At one point it appeared that they had finally turned the corner, winning a season-high four consecutive games thanks to the healthy return of Butler & Co, in which they outscored the opposition by 10.5 points on 45.0% shooting, including 39.7% from downtown, while holding their own on the glass (Plus-1.8), getting to the charity stripe (25.5 FTA), and limiting their turnovers (14.3), but they’ve unfortunately dropped three in a row before picking themselves back up off the mat in their trip to Sacramento on Thursday night…
“They have to shoulder big-time responsibilities for us. That’s not only on court but from a leadership standpoint. That’s what they signed up for. That’s what they earn their paychecks for. The way our offense is designed, they play-make quite a bit and get other guys involved.”Erik Spoelstra on the performance of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo who both posted Triple-Doubles in Miami’s 118-110 win in Sacramento on Thursday night
When we last saw the Heat, they marched along on their westward road trip snapping their three-game losing streak with a 118-110 victory over the Sacramento Kings, their first in the California capital in five years, and all it took were massive massive performances from two of their stars. For the third game in a row, Butler logged a Triple-Double with thirteen points, ten rebounds, and thirteen assists, while Adebayo joined him in that honor posting sixteen points, twelve rebounds, and ten assists himself. Thursday’s showing was the second time that the dynamic duo managed to pull off that feat in the same game (the last time it occurred was on December 10th, 2019), and they are the first tandem to do so on multiple occasions in NBA history. With Butler and Adebayo playing the role of facilitators, the supporting cast reaped the rewards as Herro scored a team-high twenty-seven points (fourteen of which came in the First Quarter) on an efficient 12-of-17 shooting (70.6%), including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc (50.0%), four rebounds and three assists, while (veteran Forward) Kelly Olynyk (10.3 PTS, 43.7% FG, 33.5% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 2.0 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 12.6 PER) added twenty-two points on 10-of-16 shooting (62.5%) and seven rebounds. (Sharpshooting Forward) Duncan Robinson (12.8 PTS, 42.1% FG, 39.2% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 1.6 AST, 9.1 PER) chipped in with twenty points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field (53.8%), knocking down 5-of-11 treys (45.5%) on the night. A game after relinquishing a late fifteen-point lead in a disappointing 120-112 loss at the Warriors, Miami once again amassed a large advantage in the Second Half, leading the hosts by twenty-three points midway through the Third Quarter. However, the Kings would close the period on a 19-9 run on the strength of four straight threes to cut the lead to ten heading into the final stanza. Fortunately, the visitors managed to stop the bleeding with a quick 6-0 run to open the frame and would never relinquish their lead the rest of the way. In the end, Spoelstra’s troops shot a stellar 51.6% from the field, including 12-of-34 from downtown (35.3%), while dishing out a season-high thirty six assists opposed to committing just fourteen turnovers, and hammering the home side in the paint where they outscored them 70-54. Now they’ll head southward down the west coast to the City of Angels, where revenge will be on their minds against the Lakers, who eliminated them in six games. While history will remember that series for Los Angeles ushering them out of the Bubble with relative ease, the Heat were remarkably shorthanded throughout the matchup with Adebayo missing the first two games with an ailing shoulder, and Dragic appearing in just two with an ankle sprain. Though it was in a losing effort, Butler was a monster in those Finals averaging 26.2 points on 55.2% shooting, with 8.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists, and 2.2 steals, singlehandedly staving off elimination as long as he could.
Meanwhile, it hasn’t necessarily been all rainbows & unicorns for the Lakers (22-8, 2nd in Western Conference) either as they’ve been forced to reevaluate their approach now that they know that they’ll be without one of the biggest guns in their armory for a lengthy period of time. After missing back-to-back games due to what has been labeled as tendonosis in his right Achilles tendon, (All-NBA Forward) Anthony Davis (22.5 PTS, 53.3% FG, 29.3% 3FG, 8.4 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.8 BLK, 24.7 PER) reaggravated that region of his body on an awkward drive to the rim as he banged knees with Nuggets’ Center, Nikola Jokic, in last Sunday night’s 122-105 defeat, limping to the locker room shortly before Halftime of that affair. After undergoing a litany of tests, the seven-time All-Star will miss the next four weeks of action, which will sideline him through the All-Star Break (March 5th-10th) and beyond. Needless to say, this is a BIG loss for Los Angeles, who after last year’s run to the franchise’s record-tying seventeenth NBA Championship, handed the 27-year old a massive five-year/$189.9 million max contract to remain with the club for the foreseeable future. Of course, no team in the Western Conference enjoyed a shorter offseason, having hoisted their latest Larry O’Brien trophy back on October 11th, meaning that only seventy-two days passed before their 2020-2021 season opener on December 22nd. With that said, (General Manager) Rob Pelinka and (Head Coach) Frank Vogel made the most of that truncated offseason, as they were rather busy in reinvigorating a largely veteran-laden rotation with some youth and athleticism. In a matter of weeks they parted ways with a bevy of veterans including (Centers) Dwight Howard and JaVale MaGee along with (Point Guards) Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, along with (Swingman) Danny Green, each of which played key roles in their run to glory. Incoming were veterans Marc Gasol (4.3 PTS, 40.0% FG, 36.1% 3FG, 4.2 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.2 BLK, 10.5 PER) and Wesley Matthews (5.0 PTS, 39.4% FG, 37.3% 3FG, 1.4 REB, 1.1 AST, 7.7 PER), while both Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (8.5 PTS, 44.3% FG, 41.2% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.7 STL, 9.5 PER) and Kyle Kuzma (11.0 PTS, 45.7% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 6.1 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.7 BLK, 13.3 PER) were retained on team-friendly deals, but the biggest additions came in the form of (Point Guard) Dennis Schroder (14.2 PTS, 44.1% FG, 31.1% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 4.3 AST, 0.9 STL, 12.6 PER) and (Forward) Montrezl Harrell (13.2 PTS, 64.5% FG, 6.2 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.7 BLK, 21.4 PER). At 27-years old apiece, Harrell and Schroder finished one and two in the voting for Sixth Man of the Year honors last season, with the added benefit of poaching the former from their city rivals, the Clippers. Coming into this campaign, the plan was always to alleviate some pressure from Davis and (four-time MVP) LeBron James (2.9 PTS, 50.8% FG, 37.2% 3FG, 8.2 REB, 7.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.5 BLK, 24.4 PER), with the offense in particular oftentimes looking lost when the latter was taking a breather. Speaking of James, how is it that in his eighteenth season in the Association he is the frontrunner for MVP? The 36-year old continues to age like a fine wine, averaging 25.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 7.9 assists, all the while knocking down a career-high 37.8% of his threes. Before this latest run without Davis in the lineup, the four-time Finals MVP was logging a career-low 33.6 minutes a night, but since then has ramped it up with 28.3 points on 54.2% shooting, with 9.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists in 38.0 minutes of action, with the team going 5-2 in that stretch, which featured a total of four overtimes in three consecutive games. Unfortunately, the magic that they’ve exhibited without the big fella may be running out, for Thursday’s affair with the new-look Brooklyn Nets, which for all intents and purposes was a potential NBA Finals preview did NOT go as the faithful in Los Angeles would have hoped…
“Missing AD and then our starting point guard in Dennis, it’s a big blow for us. But they’re missing key players as well. Neither team was full strength. We just didn’t play up to our capabilities tonight. Give them credit.”LeBron James lamenting the absence of both Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder in Thursday night’s 109-98 loss to the Brooklyn Nets
When we last saw the Lakers, they lost their second game in three outings via a 109-98 loss at home to the Nets in an affair that was dominated by the figures who were absent just as much as those who actually participated in the primetime blockbuster. While the absence of Davis certainly garnered headlines, Brooklyn was without (2013-2014 MVP) Kevin Durant for the fifth time in six games due to a lingering strained hamstring, nixing a matchup between he and James, with the two having met in back-to-back NBA Finals from 2017 to 2018. However, a more understated absence proved to be detrimental for Los Angeles, as the aforementioned Schroder was held out of the contest at the last moment due to the NBA’s Health/Safety Protocols, diminishing the champs’ rotation even more so. And it’s with that said, for the first time this season that Vogel’s troops simply didn’t have the requisite firepower to best their opponent, certainly not against the Nets who have become the most prolific attack in the league since acquiring (2017-2018 MVP) James Harden back in Mid-January in a massive four-team exchange. Even without Durant’s presence on the wing, the visitors had little trouble putting the ball through the hoop, shooting a stellar 49.4% from the field, including 18-of-39 from beyond the arc (46.2%), with twenty-three assists in comparison to thirteen turnovers. Harden finished with twenty-three points and eleven assists, while James’ former teammate turned rival, Kyrie Irving ended the night with sixteen points, seven rebounds, and five assists himself. While it wasn’t a poor offensive performance by any means for the home side, who shot 48.2% from the floor, they lagged behind in three-point shooting (8-of-30) where they were outscored THIRTY points, which really proved to be the difference in the game. James totaled a game-high thirty-two points on 14-of-23 shooting (60.9%), eight rebounds and seven assists, though the supporting cast struggled to rise to the occasion, managing just sixty-six points on 43.3% shooting overall. Kuzma posted sixteen points and ten rebounds, while Harrell added ten points off the bench, but it just wasn’t enough to keep pace with an offensive juggernaut such as the Nets. On a side note, James made some more history on Thursday night, becoming just the third player in the history of the Association to reach the 35,000-point plateau, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928). The ageless vet was the youngest in league history to reach each of the 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 30,000-point plateaus as well, and is the youngest in this particular group as well, as he was also selected to his seventeenth consecutive All-Star Game shortly before tipoff to boot.