The Lakers have bounced back from their ordinary game against Orlando to make a far better showing for the second part in their Florida derby, notching up a 113-97 win over Miami that was much worthier of their terrific third game against the Trail Blazers a couple of days ago. While that was still their best fixture – and LeBron’s best fixture – of the season so far, the King clocked up 51 points against the Heat for what was probably his second best effort, all thing considered, meaning that the Lakers have well and truly regained their momentum, even if they were playing against a fairly underwhelming team at this point in the 2018-2019 calendar.
More than any game so far this year, however, LeBron was dominant from the outset, bringing Los Angeles to a 34-21 lead by the end of the first quarter, and starting off by assisting Kyle Kuzma with a layup before drawing on Lonzo Ball to make a dunk of his own. While Wayne Ellington, in particular, might have made a valiant effort to level the score for the Heat, thanks to a pair of two point shots, LeBron took no prisoners, making a two point shot and jumpshot in quick succession three minutes in to bring the Lakers to 11-4.
Rodney McGruder was the next to step into the spotlight for Miami, and to try and match LeBron’s momentum, narrowing the deficit to one point on the back of a 13-foot driving floating jump shot and then a pullup jump shot, only for Brandon Ingram to respond with a deft two point show that threw Justise Winslow sufficiently off his game for the Miami small forward to miss a three point jumper twelve seconds later.
No surprise, then, when the Heat called a full timeout six minutes through the game – a break that seemed to briefly reverse the momentum, as a missed two-pointer from LeBron was succeeded by a pullup jump shot from Josh Richardson and a free throw from Winslow, while the Lakers responded with their spottiest passage of play so far. Once again, however, LeBron got them back on track with a string of eight points – including a pair of successive 25-foot step back jumpshots – that was only punctuated by a solitary two-pointer from McGruder and an Ingram-assisted three point jumper from Kuzma.
LeBron wasn’t done yet, however, contributing a driving floating jump shot and then a two point shot to contain a trio of free throws from Richardson, before Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put the Miami small forward in his place with a three point jumper and then a trio of free throws of his own to close out the quarter – a gesture of utter decimation that would see Richardson’s frustration grow until he was ejected in the fourth act for hurling a shoe into the crowd.
Clearly, the Heat had to come back big in the second quarter, since it was starting to feel as if the Lakers had won the game. Nevertheless, by the end of the next twelve minutes Los Angeles would be even further ahead at 67-52, thanks to another stunning period for LeBron, even if it didn’t quite match the opening quarter, which was probably his best single sequence for the Lakers so far this season.
The Heat were a little more assertive at the start of this next stanza, with Kelly Olynyk making a three point jumper off a Winslow assist thirty seconds in, and Tyler Johnson responding to a McGee-assisted pullup jump shot from Lonzo Ball with a sublime driving floating jump shot with the help of Hassan Whiteside. For a period, Los Angeles and Miami went point for point, as Tyler Johnson stepped into the spotlight, and McGee and Ball combined for the first alley oop dunk shot of the night.
Nevertheless, a three pointer and trio of free throws from Caldwell-Pope replicated the conclusion of the first quarter so perfectly that it was destined to give the Lakers the upper hand once again, and sure enough McGee and Hart put in a sterling effort to contend with a resurgence of Miami energy that saw Johnson continue to guide the team, and Whiteside and McGruder respond to McGee and Ball with an alley oop dunk shot of their own.
LeBron now started to come back into the spotlight too, offsetting the impact of two three point jumpers from Ellington – both assisted by Johnson, who was having a terrific night – with a pair of free throws, before stealing a lost ball from Whteside, making a free throw, and then bucketing a driving dunk to make up for having missed a three point pullup jump shot a minute before. With a Kuzma-assisted 2-foot dunk, the King stamped his signature on the back end of this quarter, before building on a two point shot from Ingram and containing a pullup jump shot from Richardson with a driving layup that went through the basket with 1.1. seconds to go.
While Bam Adebayo may have made a free throw with 0.3 seconds to go, there was no doubt that the Lakers had owned this second quarter as thoroughly as they had owned the first. Yet things would get worse after half time, as the scoreline would expand to 92-76 – not an enormous expansion to be sure, but a big gap to maintain given how relentlessly the Heat tried to pummel the Lakers into submission over the following twelve minutes.
Despite a series of exchanges for Miami, and a missed jumper from LeBron, the Lakers were arguably even more dominant at the start of the third quarter than the previous two, as a LeBron assist set the platform for a rapid sequence of points from Kuzma – a driving floating jump shot, and a pair of two shots – that bookended McGruder’s efforts to achieve a similar momentum with a three point jumper and two point shot of his own.
In the process, LeBron also made a Ball-assisted three point jumper, getting the Lakers to a 74-57 lead that the Heat would never quite dent over the next nine minutes. A pair of misses from Whiteside and a block on Whiteside from LeBron was particularly damaging, meaning that by the time Ellington made a McGruder-assisted three point jumper, LeBron was able to contain it immediately with a two point shot, disheveling Ellington enough to cause him to miss another jumper just after.
Sure, LeBron may have missed a jumper of his own in turn, but his focus in this third quarter had been more centred on defence and assists anyway, and sure enough he replicated the opening of the third act by helping out Kuzma with a two point shot just after – one of several moments in the game where the Lakers would reach back to a previous point scoring pattern in order to consolidate their momentum.
Two free throws from LeBron now ushered in the last part of the quarter, which the King absolutely dominated, clocking up a driving floating jump shot, a 12-foot two point shot and a 26-foot step back jumpshot that only two free throws and a three point jumper from James Johnson were able to prevent transforming the game into an absolute catastrophe for Miami. That desperation segued into the four quarter, where a layup from Johnson and successive efforts from Richardson gave the Heat what were probably their best opening minutes of the night so far, only for Ingram to get the Lakers back in gear with a layup, and LeBron to consolidate with a jumpshot shortly after.
With almost seven minutes left on the clock, the Heat called a timeout, and for a moment it seemed to have restored some momentum, as Abedayo followed up his assist for a Richardson dunk with a 3-foot hook shot, bookending the break with some good Miami momentum. That all changed, though, when Richardson was ejected, as the Lakers seized their opportunity to take control of the game with even more rigour and focus.
It started gradually, with a pair of technical free throws from Caldwell-Pope, but after a pair of 24-foot three point jumpers from Ellington – assisted by Adebayo and Johnson – and a Jones Jr-Abedayo layup, it felt as if the Heat had spent all the fuel in their tank, leaving the Lakers to consolidate over the final minutes. A driving layup from Caldwell-Pope and a pair of free throws from LeBron were the entrée, and a 22-foot and 32-foot jumper from LeBron were the main – a stunning win, even given the Heat’s current standard, that the Lakers will be anxious to replicate when Lebron takes on the Cavs for what promises to be an emotional match in a couple of days, in the second of his first two matches against his old teams in Los Angeles colours.