Demolition Men: Heat Destroy The Lakers At Staples Center
In the aftermath of yet another Christmas Day embarrassment for the Lakers, Kobe Bryant walked into the room for his postgame press conference, shamed and humiliated at the hands of the Miami Heat.
After weeks of downplaying his team’s struggles, deflecting blame for losses and trivializing his so-called rivalry with LeBron James; Kobe finally acknowledged the Lakers biggest problem this season – complacency.
“This is serious stuff. You don’t just have two rings and say, ‘OK, we’re satisfied with what we’ve got,’ “a bristling Kobe Bryant said after the Heat’s 96-80 victory over the Lakers. “I’m not rolling with that. I’m not going to let that slide”.
Really? Curious comments considering how badly LeBron James outplayed him in the most anticipated match-up of the NBA season. As has been the case in big games this season, James didn’t disappoint.
With his latest win over the Lakers, LeBron is now 9-5 all-time against Kobe, averaging more points, rebounds and assists in their 14 head-to-head matchups.
Saturday, he provided another virtuoso performance, registering only the fourth triple-double on Christmas Day in the past 40 years….
Defensively, LeBron and Miami were outstanding. Their rotations and close-outs on shooters were flawless, the energy and effort intense. They defend with five guys on a string, in unison, helping each other out with clairvoyant like anticipation, a testament to head coach Erik Spoelstra’s defensive philosophy and his team’s belief in it.
Whether it’s Christmas Day or Veteran’s day, the Heat play like a team trying to get better, professionals that approach each game with a business like mentality.
On the offensive end, James scored 27 points, shooting 5-6 from the 3-point line. Chris Bosh had a huge game, scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Wade looked slowed by a nagging knee ailment, but still managed 18 points on 6-18 from the field. Mario Chalmers chipped in 13 points, including a couple of three’s.
The Lakers failed to get things going, especially in the paint, where they hold a considerable size advantage over Miami. The trio of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol failed to exploit the Heat’s biggest weakness, combining for 37 points and 23 rebounds against Chris Bosh, Zydrunas Ilguasakas, Juwan Howard and Erik Dampier.
Despite going 18-34(53%) on shots at the rim, the Lakers struggled from 10 feet and in, shooting 3-13.
Typically in a matchup of this magnitude, Bryant would rise to the occasion as he has done so many times before, willing his team, carrying them to victory. But on this day, he couldn’t. He had the same, familiar, look as he used too when he’s unhappy, the one where he quits playing but disguises it as “facilitating”.
There was something more to it, and for the first time that I can remember, Kobe’s age was showing on the floor. Not MJ in 98’ old, but Jordan with the Wizards old. Sure, he’s still a Ferrari, but a Ferrari with 200,000 miles on it. 14 seasons, over a thousand games, playing through injuries, the surgeries – it is all catching up to him.
But it’s not just him.
Derek Fisher still can’t guard his own shadow, and there are only so many charges someone can take to disguise their defensive deficiencies. Odom was getting beaten to loose balls, outworked by the Heat’s older, veteran post players.
How is that possible?
Pau Gasol, who complained of playing too many minutes and being overworked earlier this season, was lethargic, even listless at times. Pau finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds, but was 0-6 on shots from 10 feet and in.
Ron Artest, who scored eight points, isn’t the same defensive stopper as he used to be, and despite trying to frustrate LeBron(even headlocking him), got his hat handed to him all game.
Andrew Bynum, who is still rounding into shape, gave the Lakers some decent minutes before running out of gas. Steve Blake and Matt Barnes combined for two points in 35 minutes, capping off an uninspired effort by the defending champions for the second game in a row.
What’s going on in Laker Land?
Fans and apologists will be quick to reference last season’s Christmas Day loss to the Cavs, reminding us they still won a ring in spite of of that. But the last time I checked, it isn’t last year and Miami isn’t Cleveland. These same apologists echoed the outrageous post-game suggestion by Kobe Bryant, that Christmas Day games mean more to opponents than they do to the Lakers.
Is this team is so arrogant and talented that they can take games off? Whether Kobe realizes it or not, he just questioned the professionalism of his teammates, challenged their manhood.
Not only was Bryant’s statement disrespectful to the Heat (not that he cares), but its slap in the face to the game that he claims to love.
However, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Mr.Bryant, especially after losses.
Kobe’s revealing comments aside; the Lakers have gone 13-9 since starting 8-0, falling into a tie for third place in the Western Conference. Were those games important to the Lakers? Meanwhile the Heat started a paltry 5-4, didn’t panic and have gone 18-5 since; Currently tied for the second most wins in the NBA.
A third of the way into the season and under intense national media scrutiny, the Heat has proved their mettle, far from the mentally fragile outfit the mainstream would have you believe.
The Lakers played the softest schedule in the NBA, lost several games they shouldn’t have, rested on the laurels of championships won, and are a team with internal issues in disarray.
Maybe they should hold a players only meeting to get things sorted.