HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Los Angeles Lakers have two 7-footers and the Miami Heat have none, so how do the Heat incredibly outscore L.A. 68-28 in the paint?
Um, Coach Mike D’Antoni?
It’s really two separate, but equally head-scratching questions. The Lakers, 99-90 losers at home to the Heat Thursday night, better figure out how defensively they can allow an opponent — even one with the unguardable LeBron James — to score 68.7 percent of its total points in the paint.
The other end was just as perplexing. The Lakers employ Dwight Howard, a physical beast like none other in the league down low, and Pau Gasol, a terrific finesse post man, and the Lakers score 28 points in the paint — an appallingly low number for any team against any opponent — and take 18 fewer shot attempts in there than the Heat?
Is that fact mind-boggling or simply mind-numbing?
This stuff can’t be brain surgery: If D’Antoni bends and puts Howard and Gasol in position to succeed — on the low block where both have practically begged to be utilized — then D’Antonio will succeed. If not, he won’t.
Howard played 38 minutes against Miami and was 4-for-7 from the floor for 13 points. Say that again: Howard was 4-for-7 from the floor in 38 minutes — SEVEN shots in 38 minutes! Now, Howard did shoot 13 free throws — making just five — possessions that could have been shot attempts, and even baskets, if not for getting fouled, which every smart team will do.
Gasol, in his first game back since a concussion, also managed a whopping seven shot attempts in 25 minutes.
To put that in a bit more perspective, Metta World Peace put up 11 shots, Antawn Jamison took seven and Earl Clark had five in 22 minutes.
Of course Kobe Bryant shot it 25 times (same as LeBron) — making just eight — and finally got hot in the fourth quarter to keep L.A. from getting blown out in another bomb of a final quarter. After the game Kobe told reporters that he needs help on the offensive end if he’s going to be asked to defend the opponent’s best player these days. His man, Dwyane Wade, went off for 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting.
Here’s what Kobe said after the game:
“We talked about it going into the fourth quarter. I said, ‘Coach D man, [expletive]. Come on, man. Come on, man. I can’t be standing out here like this all night long now,'” Bryant told ESPNLA.com, recalling a conversation with Lakers coach D’Antoni. “We did a much better job of that. My teammates know. We got to pick each other up. I’m going to go out there and do what I got to do defensively, and then on the offensive end of the floor we’ll pick each other up.”
Steve Nash said: “Ideally, we should be able to make them pay in other areas of the court. We should make problems for people with Dwight on the block, Pau on the block. When they’re doubling my pick and rolls, the game should open up because it should be a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 on the weakside. I just don’t think we were efficient enough elsewhere tonight.”
Kobe has also made statements throughout D’Antoni’s bumpy stay that the ball needs to find the big men where they like to operate on the block.
It might not be the way D’Antoni engineered Nash’s old Phoenix Suns into an offensive marvel, but these are the old-and-slow Lakers, and they have two premiere low post players who need to be fed where they can eat.
This is an unnecessarily recurring story line with D’Antoni and the Lakers, and one the TNT crews, the guys calling the game and the guys in the studio, continually attacked.
Four-for-7 from both 7-footers — against a defense with no size — just won’t get it done.