Is LeBron James’ workload too much? 5 takeaways from Lakers’ loss to Heat
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 96-94 loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday at Staples Center:
1. LeBron laboring?
There’s a line of thinking that the most foolproof way for the Lakers to survive this stretch of games without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder is for LeBron James to save them in the way he’s redeemed under-manned teams throughout his career.
But at 36 and after the shortest offseason of his 18-year NBA career, questions about whether James should do it — or whether, under these circumstances, he still can — are fair.
“Now it’s time for me to adjust again and see ways I can be even more effective to help this team win ballgames. Because that is the sport that we’re in,” James said. “We’re in the winning business, and I’ve always been a winner. So, it’s time to click into that.”
Take the game against the Heat on Saturday when James was incredibly aggressive offensively from the jump. He scored 15 points in the first half and helped inject life into the listless Lakers by pushing the tempo and playing with force.
Highlights from the Lakers’ 96-94 loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday night at Staples Center.
It came with a cost. He was beaten off the dribble multiple times by 6-foot-11 center Kelly Olynyk, of all people. And in the second half, he was just two-of-nine shooting from the field.
Although he only scored four points in the final two quarters, James still was a plus-14 while on the court, but it was jarring to seemingly watch everyone else on the Lakers take big shots down the stretch except for James, the one exception being a contested three that bounced off the side of the backboard.
“LeBron is the best player on our team, and night in and night out you can see the attention he gets because he is,” reserve guard Alex Caruso said. “ Like I said, with the guys that we got out, teams are going to load up against him.”
After starting the season shooting around 40% from deep, James’ percentages have violently swung, falling below 20% in the Lakers’ last seven games.
“The law of averages will even itself out,” James said. “And we [had] lapses last year. At one point we had it during the playoffs as well. We knew we were finding our rhythm, and we’ll do the same this year.”
2. The last look
James could’ve put the poor shooting and the quiet second half behind him with a game-winning shot after he and Caruso teamed up to force a steal off a Miami inbounds pass.
But an unexpected double-team on James kept him from shooting and put the ball into Caruso’s hands, with his shot — a two-pointer with his feet on the three-point line — coming up short.
“I think the only bad thing about it is that he shot a long two,” James said. “I wish he would have shot a three, and make or miss, I’ll live with that. But other than that, it was a good look.”
Caruso said he was a little surprised the ball ended up in has hands with a chance to win or tie.
“He made the right play with two guys on him,” Caruso said of James. “I was probably a little caught off guard because I was expecting them to stay with me and go one-on-one with LeBron, so I was a little late to get ready and then just shot the shot short.”
3. Antennae up
The Miami Heat‘s shot chart in the first quarter was a masterpiece to the followers of modern analytics, the team either scoring directly at the rim or beyond the three-point line.
The Heat, a team that’s been far from a juggernaut over the season’s first third, looked unstoppable, scoring 36 points in the first quarter.
“Obviously,” Kyle Kuzma said, “that’s a hell of a lot of points.”
The Lakers rebounded, though, holding Miami to 60 points over the final three quarters, the kind of defensive performance they’ll need with Davis and Schroder out.
“I think we just had our antennas turned on a little bit more,” Kuzma said. “Our biggest issue was offense, putting guys in position and figuring out what we’re going to do on the court during this time without AD and Schroder and figuring things out. I don’t really think defense is too much of an issue.”
4. More means better
Look, the Lakers are missing shots. A lot of shots.
The Heat game was the sixth time in the last seven the Lakers shot less than 30% from three-point range, an almost unwinnable formula in the modern NBA.
But if the Lakers aren’t going to make a high percentage of threes, they definitely need to take more shots from deep, and against the Heat, they took a season-high 45 attempts from three. And even though they missed — a lot — they outscored the Heat by 15 from three-point range.
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“We’ve been hesitant, I feel, over the last few games,” Vogel said.
The Heat’s inside-first defense contributed to the Lakers’ willingness to launch from long range, every starter taking at least five threes.
Over the last seven games, the Lakers have been miserable from deep with only Marc Gasol (42.3%) and Wesley Matthews (37%) hitting reliably. Seven other rotation players who shoot threes are under 30% during that stretch, including the remarkably cold Talen Horton-Tucker (8.3%), Caruso (18.2%) and James (19.6%).
5. Hope is out there
The best news to come out of Saturday happened pregame, when Vogel shed a little light on Schroder’s situation.
By saying the hope was that Schroder would only miss the next two games after Saturday, Vogel essentially said that Schroder himself hadn’t tested positive for the virus — there would be no clear timetable in that case. Instead, he was likely exposed to someone who tested positive.
Provided he continues to return negative test results, Schroder could return when the Lakers host Portland on Friday at Staples Center.
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