When Miami’s Goran Dragic jumped up off the floor after Jordan Clarkson shoved him, and then rushed toward the Lakers guard, Clarkson thought back to Kobe Bryant’s advice about how to handle such a situation.
Never leave your hands down when you’re about to get into something.
So Clarkson took a boxer’s stance, just in case. And while Dragic, held back by teammates and an official, never made it to him, a near-melee ensued. By the end of it, both players had received double technical fouls and were ejected from the game.
“We’re not going to back down from guys,” Clarkson said.
At the time, the Lakers had an eight-point lead in a game they’d once led by double digits. That has often been a precarious position for this team, but it wasn’t Friday night. The Lakers went on to beat the Heat, 127-100, winning their second consecutive home game. It was a season high in points for the Lakers, who improved their record to 14-26 while the Heat fell to 11-27.
“We got in the huddle after it happened and I told them, ‘I’ve been in the league for 13 years,’” Lakers forward Luol Deng said. “This is just the way it always happens. It’s never a fight. You kind of push each other, you get held back and you go back to your bench and you lose money. Honestly the main thing was really [after] something like that happens, one team is going to be more aggressive. I thought we were the aggressive team.”
Lou Williams led the Lakers with 24 points. Deng had 19 points and 14 rebounds; center Tarik Black had 10 and 11. Point guard D’Angelo Russell had 19 points. Power forwards Willie Reed and James Johnson had 22 and 20 points, respectively, for the injury-depleted Heat. Before being ejected, Dragic had 16 points on seven-for-13 shooting.
The 10th of Miami’s 11 wins so far this season came against the Lakers on Dec. 22. In that game the Lakers built a 19-point lead in the first half, only for it to vanish in the third quarter. It was the second time that week the Lakers had a 19-point lead in a game they eventually lost.
Overall this season, the Lakers have won 11 of the 19 games in which they’ve had double-digit leads.
Lately, though, their leads, even the big ones, have not been safe. From Dec. 16 through Jan. 5, the Lakers had double-digit leads in eight games and went 2-6.
Friday, the Lakers scored 10 points before the Heat scored once. Miami missed its first five shots.
After a cold start for the Heat on Friday, the game evened. By halftime, the Lakers had only a two-point lead, and that was after the Heat had briefly secured the lead, their first of the game.
A similar back-and-forth proceeded in the third quarter. The Lakers led by two, then three, then five, then seven, then three again, and then by eight by the time Clarkson checked in.
Seconds later, Clarkson and Dragic began bumping each other.
“When he switched on me, he kind of elbowed me in the stomach a little bit and I kind of shoved him a little bit out the lane,” Clarkson said. “He came back and kind of chunked, like an elbow in my chest. From then I pushed him as well.”
They clashed a few times before Clarkson used his forearm to push Dragic off him and to the floor.
After a lengthy consultation, the officials assessed double technicals on Clarkson and Dragic, ejecting both. Johnson was also charged with a technical foul and Clarkson received a personal foul in addition to his technicals.
“It’s really shameful, disgraceful that Goran Dragic got thrown out of that game,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Gets an elbow to his face, somebody that wants to fight, knocks him down on the ground and just a bailout, shameful, disgraceful ejection. There’s no way he should be thrown out of that situation for just taking an elbow to the face and getting up.”
Lakers Coach Luke Walton saw the incident as just two players shoving each other. What he liked, though, was that his players didn’t let the whole thing distract them.
And so, for only the third time in nine tries during the past three weeks, the Lakers held onto a double-digit lead.