In a battle of major-market super teams, the Miami Heat defeated the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 99-90. LeBron James led the way with 39 points and fended off a fierce fourth-quarter rally led by Kobe Bryant.
If there's one thing to take from this game, it's that Bryant and the Lakers must learn from LeBron and the Heat's blueprint for success.
Entering the game, the Lakers were expected to dominate the interior with the tandem of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. The two combined for 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Perhaps most surprising of all, the Heat outscored the Lakers in the paint by a margin of 68-28.
Heat with 68 points in the paint. Lakers with 28. Dwight Howard plays for the Lakers.— Joseph Goodman (@MiamiHeraldHeat) January 18, 2013
For further perspective, only 21 of the Heat's points in the paint came in transition.
Speaking of transition, the Lakers scored just five points in that regard while running Mike D'Antoni's uptempo offense. This means that the Heat outscored the Lakers 47-23 in half-court points in the paint.
A major reason for this difference in interior production is the fact that the Heat continued to attack the basket. In fact, 41 of their 83 field-goal attempts came in the paint.
High-percentage looks lead to efficient scoring.
For the game, the Heat shot just 15.4 percent from beyond the arc. In response to their shooting woes, they took it inside.
L.A. needs to take notes, especially after shooting just 43.1 percent from the floor.
Twenty-nine of their 72 field-goal attempts came in the paint. They shot 39.6 percent from outside of the painted area.
So how do the Lakers remedy these woes? Quite simply, it's all about the lack of aggression from two men—Howard and Gasol—and the inability to control the game on the inside.
Pushing and Demanding the Ball Down Low
Bryant and Steve Nash must create offense by passing the ball to their bigs in or near the paint. Each man is responsible for Howard and Gasol receiving their fair share of touches in the post.
With that being said, both big men are far from innocent parties.
It is on both Howard and Gasol to demand touches on the low block. Each of the two should be attempting at least eight field goals per game off designed plays.
They should be hoisting roughly four more attempts proceeding offensive rebounds and defensive collapses on penetrating ball-handlers.
For those who believe this is impossible, simply revisit the 2011-12 NBA regular season. Andrew Bynum averaged 18.7 points, Gasol tallied 17.4 and Bryant maintained his 27.9 per game.
The only difference this season is that the Lakers have an elite facilitator in Nash to incorporate every player into the flow of the offense.
Gasol attempted 14.1 field goals per game in 2011-12 to Bynum's 13.3; this year, Gasol and Howard are averaging roughly 11 shots per game. For the Lakers to achieve success, the big-man tandem must boost its offensive numbers.
Creating for Kobe
Bryant is an extraordinary scorer who is more than capable of creating off the dribble. In fact, a panel of NBA players labeled Bryant as one of the most difficult players to defend for that very reason (via YouTube).
With that being said, Bryant plays at a much more efficient level when shots are created for him.
Nash and Gasol are elite facilitators from the perimeter and high post, respectively. Both men can create looks for Bryant that are less contested and closer to the basket.
As the following shot charts detail, LeBron took more than half of his shots in the paint, and that was the primary reason why he had a more efficient game than Kobe.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, James finished with six dunks against the Lakers. Also, of the 17 shots he made, 15 came in the paint.
Although Bryant is no longer an elite athlete, he has the ability to finish in the paint—something he failed to exploit against a weak Miami interior.
Kobe attempted just four of his 25 field goals in the paint.
It's on both Bryant and his teammates to create easier looks.
Controlling the Pace
By taking the previously outlined steps, the Los Angeles Lakers will be able to achieve the most important advantage a team can possess: the ability to control the pace of a game.
Due to the age of their players, that becomes an even more important aspect of their approach.
The key for the Lakers will be to take their time, place their scorers in the best possible positions and find open looks. It is then, and only then, that the Lakers will consistently string together victories.
Embracing the Heat's approach of working it inside may just save the Lakers' season.