Lakers' 114-111 overtime loss to Miami Heat shows Kobe Bryant's heroics won't always secure a victory
His shot had been off, something that uncharacteristically has become a common theme this season for Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. After aggravating his fractured right index finger in early January, he finished that month shooting 41.2%. And after being sidelined for five games because of a sprained left ankle, Bryant returned last week against Memphis and provided his sixth game winner of the season. But in the past four games, Bryant had shot only 34.2% from the field.
That's why he arrived Thursday at American Airlines Arena in Miami three hours before tipoff, working on his shooting. And it appeared the extra shots was just what Bryant needed to get back into his groove. He scored 39 points on 15 of 28 shooting against the Heat, 12 of those points coming in the fourth quarter, including a 12-foot jumper that ultimately forced overtime with three seconds remaining in regulation.
There would be no game winner this time around, however, as the Lakers' lost 114-111 in overtime Thursday to Miami. Though Bryant's shooting stroke is back, his lack of discipline on D largely led to Quentin Richardson scoring a team-high 25 points on eight of 13 shooting. The end result illustrated why the team can't solely depend on Bryant's heroics to bail a team out from a bad performance. It's tempting particularly because Bryant has already provided six game winners this season, and the Lakers' 100-95 victory Jan. 13 over Dallas served as the lone game of the six that actually featured the team playing well. The rest of Mamba's game winners simply allowed the Lakers to sweep any problems they had under the rug.
But not this time. The Lakers' (46-16) started off their three-game trip with a loss, and must quickly rebound on Friday with a back-to-back at Charlotte where they have lost three of five road games there in the Bobcats' history. It's not exactly what the Lakers had hoped for, since the team has gone only 9-8 on the road since late December and 10 of the remaining 13 games in March are away from the Staples Center's friendly confines.
There's too many areas to pinpoint why the Lakers lost. They had five other players score in double figures in Derek Fisher (14 points on 5 of 8 shooting), Lamar Odom (13 points on six of eight shooting and 11 rebounds), Andrew Bynum (12 points, 10 rebounds), Pau Gasol (10 points) and Ron Artest (10 points). But that didn't mean the team played well. Bynum got in early foul trouble, Gasol shot only four of 11 and the team defense remained largely undisciplined by allowing Miami to shoot 52.5% from the field.
Though Artest somewhat limited Dwyane Wade to 27 points on nine of 21 shooting and six turnovers, the Lakers inexcusably allowed Richardson to score 17 points above his season average. The Lakers also committed 16 turnovers and shot only 15 of 25 from the free-throw line, factors that should've helped overcome some questionable officiating calls, most notably the non-call on Wade for hitting Bryant's right arm as the Lakers led 97-96 with 28 seconds remaining, resulting in Bryant airballing a 20-foot airball instead of sealing the win on the shot or on free throws.
Add all the problems up, and you have a team that didn't follow two principles Coach Phil Jackson and Fisher outlined to me recently regarding how the Lakers can be effective on back-to-backs. Jackson's key entailed limiting players' minutes in the first game so to preserve energy for the following night, but he was forced to play Bryant for 46 minutes. Fisher's key entailed playing more efficiently, such as limiting turnovers and playing smart on D, two areas that weren't on display against Miami.
The lapses against Miami aren't really that much of a revelation. The Lakers played uninspired basketball last week against Philadelphia, put together an inconsistent effort Sunday against Denver and got off to a slow start Tuesday against Indiana. Jackson and the team surely didn't forget about those issues. But with each of those games ending in wins, it's easier to downplay the areas of concern. That's why the Lakers thought the many road games this month would be good for the team, since the challenges would force them to correct those problems.
Well, the Lakers certainly saw those challenges Thursday against Miami (31-31), who barely has the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference but gave the Lakers trouble last year on its home floor. And they were reminded the hard way that a hot shooting night from Bryant can't always camouflage the team's lapses.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who finished with a game-high 39 points on Thursday night, brings the ball up court against the Heat. Credit: Rhona Wise/EPA.