Anthony Davis and LeBron James
(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Lakers stay in the zone, extend winning streak to 7

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES – Another challenge successfully completed.

The Lakers put on a fundamentally beautiful performance Friday night, blending star power with extremely high IQ on both ends of the floor to puncture Miami’s zone defense and impair its offense in order to win their seventh straight game.

Miami came into the game boasting the NBA’s best defense against opposing three-pointers, and the Lakers haven’t exactly been able to rely on that weapon yet in the young season. That’s exactly why the 3-2 zone was a riddle suited not just to challenge the team’s shooting, but also its ability to be patient, attack closeouts, and make quick decisions.

It was just one game, but the results were very encouraging. Playing through Anthony Davis in the heart of the zone, Frank Vogel’s squad was able to always be a step ahead in offense.

The 95 points on almost 45% shooting weren’t historic by any means, but combined with the stingiest defense in the league – looking scarier than ever – the math added up to another comfortable win.

How do you beat a zone on a night when you only make 8 threes and score just 4 points in transition?

You start by moving the ball. The Lakers had 30 assists, with five different players notching at least three.

The type of interior passing – and player movement – displayed in this sequence between LeBron James, AD, and JaVale McGee was possibly the flashiest example:

Despite being often surrounded and operating in tight quarters at the free throw line, Davis looked incredibly poised finding shooters and cutters alike. Of his team-leading 7 assists, 3 of them generated three-pointers, and the other four either layups or dunks.

The basic fundamentals of the game call for establishing your best passer in the middle of the zone, and despite James being one of the best creators in the history of basketball, AD isn’t too shabby himself, especially at 6’10.

However, it takes 2 to tango, and the standing around and ball-watching was kept to a minimum.

With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma providing spacing on the weakside and Dwight Howard sealing his man by the rim, James and Alex Caruso were able to execute this gem thanks to a great blend of timing, quick decision-making, and the ageless concept of always staying in motion.

Look at this chemistry!

A student of the game also knows that you’re supposed to rebound effectively, especially on the offensive glass, to chip away at a zone. The Lakers did that well too, beating Miami 48-37 in the battle of the boards, and 17-8 in second-chance points.

Finally, some measure of shot-making is always required.

Here’s where Avery Bradley and Davis shining on mid-range shots was deadly for the Heat’s aspirations.

Davis scored 26 on 17 shots, adding 8 rebounds, a pair of steals and three blocks.

Meanwhile, James shot 4-for-7 from long range en route to a 25-point performance.

“When you put the ball in those guys’ hands in the middle of the paint like that, with shooters all around, they were able to make great plays,” Vogel said.

And both of them, along with McGee and Danny Green among others, were also stellar on defense, where the Lakers held Miami to 80 points on a frigid 35% from the field.

“We're very resilient and throughout adversity... we're able to calm our minds and just bounce back, we don't get rattled,” James said.

A valiant effort to be sure by the visiting team, but not nearly enough to put an end to what’s now L.A.’s longest winning streak since 2011.

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