Sunday, January 29

Coup takeaways: Jimmy Butler’s triple-double, HEAT shots build early lead as Miami holds off Lakers


one. The HEAT haven’t run into too many true small-ball lineups this season, but that’s exactly what the Los Angeles Lakers have focused on in the absence of Anthony Davis (MCL sprain). They can start big with Dwight Howard (a lineup that was -10 in six first-half minutes, -13 overall), but from there they go through lineups that include LeBron James and Stanley Johnson in all five. The problem for the Lakers is that with Bam Adebayo, Miami has a big guy who can defend the little guys as well as anyone, so Miami had no reason to walk away from their trade scheme, even as the Lakers generated lead matchups in On paper, the HEAT kept surprising them with double teams. And at the other end, where Carmelo Anthony often defended center while Johnson or James took on Jimmy Butler, Miami changed nothing, running the same offense they always run as it produced one rim run for Adebayo or Dewayne Dedmon after another. . .

In theory, those small Lakers lineups create more room to drive, but the HEAT kept shrugging bodies in the paint, happy to let a Los Angeles team shoot 11-for-40 from 3 to try to tilt the defense with kicks and sequences. swing passer who often returned the ball to the hand of James or Russell Westbrook. The Lakers made their run in the fourth quarter, when Adebayo got into foul trouble, to cut the lead to four, but it was less on the strength of his shots or spacing and more on brute force than anything else.

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two. If there was an interesting strategic twist to this, it was that the Lakers were often on the strong side of Butler’s iso/posts, bringing a help defender across the lane as a preventative measure against Butler’s attacks. It’s a tactic that became popular when Tom Thibodeau used it with the Chicago Bulls and has since become more or less common, although fewer teams practice it than a few years ago.

It didn’t matter much tonight, as Butler was more than happy to take advantage of the defense, one that already lacked the size and length to fill passing lanes, got out of shape and racked up 10 first-half assists on his way to his 10th regular season triple-double (20 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists) with the HEAT. That broke a tie with James for the all-time franchise lead. Notably, the Lakers stopped setting up their defense this way down the stretch, but it’s something that will likely show up in the postseason.

3. The first half was as commanding a performance as you’ll see this season. Miami won paint points, 30-22. The cutters were cutting. The rollers were rolling. The ball never stopped moving. Miami won the shooting game, going 11 of 17 from 3 to 4 of 18 for the Lakers. Duncan Robinson started 4-for-6 and the Lakers emptied the middle of the court to keep a body on him. And Miami won the battle for possession, with just five turnovers helping them make eight more field goals than their opponent.

In all, the HEAT posted a 143.8 Offensive Rating at the half, their scoring margin never topping 17 only due to downhill bursts of strength from James (18 at the half) and Westbrook (11). The offense dried up in the second half (44 total points) (changes can get in Miami’s way sometimes), but as the HEAT have done so often this season, they capitalized on their early lead with defense and hustle, along with a pair of final, crucial 3-pointers from Robinson and PJ Tucker.

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