Crucifido’s Corner: The Cooled Off Battle With The Heat

Clublakers.comAnalyst IFebruary 29, 2008

Gone is Shaq, and with him the once hot tension between the Lakers and the Heat. In come an oddly happy Marion and a humbled Wade to Staples with hardly the same kind of buzz behind them.

Just like with every other wounded animal or weak team, all you want was the Lakers to come into this game not looking past it or taking it too lightly. The energy was instantly better than the Portland game, letting you know that they may have shaken off some the malaise that teams on a winning streak can get.

 Odom was, once again, doing his diving act through the paint and making himself available for any pass from, through, or in the lane. His first jump shot in the 1st quarter had such a confident step about it; it just doesn’t look anything like the same Lamar Odom that was field-mouse-timid about shooting earlier on this season. What was good to see in this one was Lamar correcting his spacing mistakes before they destroyed plays. He recognized crowding or a wrong run somewhere and went to the right area without having to be told to do so.

I love the early-concerted effort by everyone on the team to get a quick start for all on the starting squad. When one gets the shot, there’s a run to the open spot and a look to another to get them going, too. Not only does it get your whole team going, but also it kept the Heat defense running around like headless chickens for the entire first quarter.

At the forefront of this effort is Kobe. It was just another great distribution run from him. I wish there was an attempted assists category for the years when the Lakers were struggling. These same passes were there before, but now he has a team that is both willing and able to make the shots off of his passes. But you have to give it to him for getting his mates going before getting his own.

His shot seemed to be a touch off, but his drives into the paint were just amazing. There was a great jump in his step through the middle. If the amount of drive and kicks that Kobe was looking for keep coming, it will give the Lakers yet another facet to this developing offense.

Kobe’s defense on Wade was right on the money again. Keeping Wade out of any open shot or any chance to make a run to a spot for a pass was key in getting the Lakers out to the kind of start they needed on a team like Heat. Although I don’t think Wade has any shot at getting going like he has on other teams against Kobe, it’s still good to see Kobe really push Wade far outside.

Looks like the heat went from Miami to Jordan, because the rhythm he had shooting versus the Blazers flowed right into this game. He’s got a real nice first step into his shots. He’s becoming downright dangerous, to the point of teams needing to send a man to him on the arc. It’s awesome that Jordan has found his stroke and best offensive spots on the floor. He is becoming downright scary from the corners of the arc right now. Hopefully he can remember to not become just a shooter and that his real strength still lies in leading breaks and keeping the offense in rhythm on half court sets. But I don’t think I’d turn this shooting development down at any time.

More enthusiasm from Ronny just makes me want more Turiaf energy every minute of every game. The throw down followed by the vintage goofy run back to defense in the 2nd quarter, nearly taking the air out of the ball, was just awesome. He may not be putting up the numbers that he was before Pau came, but yet again when Ronny came into the game the spirit and fun of the game takes a step forward. Being denied the great block, he had only to come right back and block the next drive from the heat down the lane and then the 2nd rebound effort in the last minutes of the game for the three-point play is an irreplaceable tenacity and one the Lakers are fortunate to have coming off the bench. That kind of strong attitude and stick-to-itiveness will get fans excited every time.

Luke looked like he had a little spring in his game tonight. Playing as hurt hasn’t made him look like an All-Star and it hasn’t done justice to the intelligent utilitarian player he is. In this one though there was a lot of loose ball activity from Luke. Off-ball movement and play initiation is Luke’s specialty and there was a slight return to that form. The highlight for Luke was that his offense wasn’t being forced from the low post (sans one ill-advised botch in the 3rd). He was back to outside runs with flashes to the post then back to a mid-range level. Pulling up to shoot every once in awhile from a decent distance, Luke’s offense became much less pained. Defensively there wasn’t a bad or good game from him, just an unchallenging one.

That second quarter bounce pass from Pau to Kobe on the dive through the paint was a thing of beauty. Passes like that from your center on the high post is just beyond a privilege for the Lakers to have. You picture that kind of skill on the high post with Kobe and Lamar diving and Andrew on the high post with Derek or Sasha roaming the arc and you have to get a smile on your face.

The giver of that pass, Pau, played a quiet game last night, but intelligently quiet. His grasp of the offense was on display. Not only was he in the right spot to receive passes, he knew where others would be once he got the ball in the post, high or low. It wasn’t any major highlight reel for Pau, but what he gave to the Lakers was another stabilizing performance even though out of position.

There was a drive and kick play in the 2nd quarter from Kobe, where Sasha ran through the middle to his spot perfectly.  Jordan got to the top of the arc and Ronny got to the low block all in this symphonic kind of movement. Plays like that, where the Lakers almost don’t have to look where everyone is, are signs of a team that is finding, or even found, its way.

I suppose you can add Wade to Sasha’s list with Bibby and Anthony. His tenacious no-space defense does more than annoy people; it actually takes them out of their game. Sasha did an exceptional job in getting the ball out of Wade’s hands early in sets. He would harass him to the point where Wade would be looking sideways at where to dish it before he would look for his shot. Defense like that on a supposed-better player can give a player confidence that will extend to other parts of their game.

What I like seeing about Sasha playing this kind of game is that he doesn’t let it take him out of what he can do offensively. He doesn’t let it get to his head. Before the off-ball foul from Wade, Sasha had a beautiful drive in the middle with a dish to Farmar. I’ve said it before, but I do like to see the Laker shooters occasionally putting the ball on the floor to take pressure off of their well-known strength.

My favorite play of this game—aside from the insane Kobe-Luke-Lamar dunk/passing thing— was the inspiration, fun and effort they played with until the last second. Though it was a big lead on a weak team, there was no let down.

It’s alright having a cruise control win here and there, but there were a couple points that should be fixed, despite the win…

I would’ve liked a bit more a killer instinct to the point of making the 12 point lead 20, rather than toying with the Heat. Letting a team get on a run to bring it back to 7 here and there is a dangerous game to play, not to mention unnecessary. You have to bury these teams fast and early so they won’t come back, and then you can play as loose as you want. No more giving teams even the slightest thought that they can beat the Lakers.

Two shot clock violations and forced against the clock chucks versus a team like the Heat is a tad inexcusable. There should be no defensive scheme the Heat (or teams on their level) stumble onto that can stop the Lakers talent on the floor.

I’ll bring up my nagging little point again; the Lakers have got to be far more aware of end-of-quarter plays. Last night they let Banks sink a mildly-contested 3-pointer at the end of the 1st quarter. They did have the amazing block from Kobe on Marion at the end of the 3rd, and that’s what the Lakers need to keep doing in the last seconds of the quarter.

WTF of The Game: I must have been sleepy, or unknowingly drunk, because I think I heard Barkley say the Lakers were in the equation for the championship and not the Suns. Seriously though, it’s hard to deny the power of this Laker team right now.

I hope I don’t hear any moaning about easy games.  Its damn sweet having a team that you can casually watch play an inferior team without worrying whether they’ll fall asleep and let it slide away. This is the kind of team we’ve been waiting for; focused and ready to win the games they should be winning (and hopefully a bunch of them that are up for grabs too).