HEAT 96 - Lakers 80 Recap

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December 25 – As far as regular season games go, this was the vision. This was the glimpse of exactly what people have thought for months the Miami HEAT could do, and a display of what they can do.

There’s no more reason for it than the HEAT’s 96-80 over the Los Angeles Lakers, on the road, not being an aberration. It was a 16-point win over the defending champions, and it wasn’t perfect.

Most any team can have those nights where everything is going their way. The bounces sometime just bounce right, the shots fall in, and the passes reach their destination cleanly. But 36 percent shooting from downtown, 44 percent overall, and 109 points per 100 possessions are all below the HEAT’s season averages.

Instead, rather than being a night full of impressive yet unsustainable numbers and performances, the HEAT on Christmas Day made their own fortune. They bothered those trying to pass and swarmed to those trying to catch. They dove for loose balls and followed seemingly easy fast breaks just in case of a miss. They took charges, moved the ball, used their bodies on the boards and did everything else that they have direct control over from game to game.

“We tried to be as active and athletic as we could be but a lot of these habits we’ve been starting to build now the last 3 or 4 weeks,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve been much more consistent with our defense and understanding that that’s our identity.”

So, maybe the shooting wasn’t perfect but the effort was. As were the impact of contributions. And none were greater than those of Chris Bosh.

Flash back to over a month ago, when Bosh endured both external and internal criticism. The public saw a player struggling to duplicate his gaudy stats from the season before. Bosh, and Spoelstra, saw adjustments that weren’t easy to make. Bosh was often taking quick jumpers, admittedly unsure of his place in the offense, where he sometimes was relegated to drifting, and then forcing the action when the ball found him.

All that seems like a vague memory now. A moment in time crucial to the HEAT’s journey, but one that now couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, Bosh had a few November games similar to Saturday’s 24 points and 13 rebounds on 11-of-17 shooting, but the how is far more important than the what. Every time play needed to be made, Bosh was there to do it, and do it decisively. He ran to spots he knew would earn him an open look, and when he defense lunged at him, he went to the rim.

And when Dwyane Wade afforded him an open lane to the hoop with a drive of his own, Bosh threw down as powerful and aggressive a dunk as he’s shown all season.

“That is a tough balance where they can be who they’ve been for years and been so successful with that and yet strike a balance to have a trust and move the ball,” Spoelstra said. “Again, I think tonight was probably our best game in terms of that.”

The rest of the team followed suit. Once again, LeBron James put up on the big stage with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, joined by Wade’s 18-5-6. Mario Chalmers (13 points) was confident as ever. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Erick Dampier used their length to bother Pau Gasol in the middle, and the HEAT’s weakness over the past few games, turnovers, never showed its face (just 10).

“Offensively,” Spoelstra said, “this is the most trust and the most poise that we’ve played this season in one game for really a 48-minute game.”

Some caution is required, though, as the Lakers are far better than 40 percent from the field and 30 points combined in the first and fourth quarters. So, after awarding all credit the HEAT are due, remember that in a seven-game series, the Lakers will play better. They’ll make more of their looks in the paint and work both sides of the floor better on offense.

“We haven’t been playing well but I give the Heat some credit, they helped manufacture this,” Phil Jackson said.

As such, it would be foolish to use one December game as a direct indicator of June success. But it doesn’t have to be a predictor. Saturday’s win need only be one for the HEAT to keep in their pocket as a reminder of what they can do to the NBA’s elite, and what to strive for, just as those rough stretches in November offer a vision of where they don’t want to be.