The Lakers needed a big statement win against one of the best teams in the NBA on Thursday. But even though they fell 99-90 to the Heat, a lot was learned from their valiant effort.
Los Angeles made some positive changes against the Heat but failed to correct some of their bad habits.
Turnovers once again plagued the Lakers, especially in the first half, when 16 of their 20 turnovers were committed. The Heat managed to capitalize, scoring 23 points off those mistakes.
In fact, the Heat's first eight points all came from transition dunks that were triggered by Lakers turnovers.
Los Angeles is averaging 15.4 turnovers per game, the fourth-highest average in the league. Fewer blunders on the Lakers' part might have changed the outcome of the game, especially against a Miami team that has LeBron James and Dwyane Wade running the break.
On Thursday night, the Lakers shot 10-of-22 (45.5 percent) from three-point range. On the season, they've made 35.7 percent, so their improved shooting was a pleasant surprise.
Earl Clark took us all by surprise, going 2-of-2 from behind the arc.
One problem with this is that too many threes are being taken. Sure, that's a part of Mike D'Antoni's offense. But there were many instances against the Heat when the Lakers shot a transition three and missed. There's no need for those shots, especially from Pau Gasol.
Los Angeles is averaging 25.2 three-point attempts per game, third highest in the league.
It seemed as though Dwight Howard found a rhythm from the free throw line early in the game. He started off 4-of-5 from the line, then went 1-of-8 the rest of the way.
This included an embarrassing air-balled free throw followed by another miss with 1:51 to go. At the time, Miami was only up by two.
The rest of the team went 13-of-15, so that's good news. Howard's free throw-shooting ability, or lack thereof, is the problem.
On average, Los Angeles makes 69.1 percent of its free throws, second worst in the league. Factor Howard out of that statistic, and the Lakers are shooting 78.1 percent (586-of-760), which would be eighth best in the league.
One issue to consider is that the game might not have been that close. In actuality, the Lakers need to have a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter to close out games. If they had led Miami in the closing minutes of the game, hack-a-Dwight might have been employed, and with the way Howard was shooting late in the game, Miami could've still pulled off the win.
For a change, the Lakers played decent perimeter defense against the Heat.
Miami started 0-of-8 from three-point range, and the majority of its points came from the paint. A total of 85 of their points came from inside the paint or from free throws, which means that only 14 points came from elsewhere.
Those 14 points came rather inefficiently as well. The Heat were miserable outside the paint, shooting just 6-of-34 (17.6 percent).
This was probably the best takeaway from the game for the Lakers. Now they just need to step up their interior defense.
The Black Mamba almost did it again. In the final quarter of play, he scored more than half of the Lakers' points.
After starting out the night horribly, Kobe scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
He was 5-of-9 from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point land. It never gets boring to see Bryant flip the proverbial switch when it matters. Unfortunately, this time he just fell short.
In his first game back after missing five games due to a concussion, Pau Gasol came off the bench for the first time as a Laker (he started 345 regular-season games).
Gasol had a decent showing, with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes.
Now the big question is whether Gasol should continue in that role to solidify the second unit or start and have the "twin towers" on the court.
Here's some insight into this question. Pau's plus-minus rating when Howard was not on the court was -10 against Miami. When the two were playing together, Gasol's was -1.
The Lakers' fourth quarter defense let them down again. They just couldn't get the stops they needed.
Miami scored on seven of its last eight possessions, resulting in a three-point Heat lead ballooning to a nine-point victory.
In the fourth quarter, Los Angeles allowed the Heat to shoot 11-of-19 (57.9 percent), which is unacceptable, considering Miami has shot 48.8 percent on the season and the Lakers hold their opponents to 45.0 percent shooting.
Every player has bad nights, but for the first three quarters on Thursday night, Kobe's offense was terrible.
He started off 3-of-16 from the field after taking on the tough defensive assignments of Kyrie Irving and Brandon Jennings in the previous two games, which begs the question.
Can Kobe defend an opposing team's best player (of course, guards only) game in and game out and still be efficient in other aspects of the game in the long run?
Personally, I don't think he can keep it up. A solution would be to simply allow him to take on that defensive responsibility in the fourth quarter, when it matters most. Otherwise, he will be wearing himself out and possibly even shortening his career.
Even though the loss to Miami takes the Lakers further from the playoffs, a lot was learned, so I consider it a victory of sorts. Now, the Lakers can't keep having these kinds of "victories" if they want to make it to the postseason, but the team is looking better and better.
Some things can't be changed (or likely won't). Howard will probably always be a poor free-throw shooter, and Kobe will remain clutch.
Let's hope the Lakers' improved three-point shooting and perimeter defense can continue. But if they want to really be a contender, they must cut down on turnovers and play some defense in the fourth quarter.