Five takeaways from the Heat’s 112-98 win against the Lakers on Wednesday at FTX Arena:
▪ Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were back after one-game absences, and they were both very sharp on a night Miami used yet another new starting lineup (out of necessity).
Butler returned after missing a game with a sprained ankle and was exceptional, tormenting the Lakers with his polished mid-range game and closing with 27 points, five rebounds, four assists and five steals.
He scored 19 in the first half, on 7 of 11 shooting.
Then, after a 25-13 Lakers run late in the third and early in the fourth, Butler drove to the basket to put the Heat up 13 with under three minutes left. Then he sealed it with a short jumper that put the Heat up 12 with 1:15 to go.
Butler finished an efficient 11 for 18 from the field.
“I got the best [staff] getting me ready to play,” he said of missing only one game with the ankle injury. “We got to work the last couple days.”
Butler, as is often the case, was brilliant in the paint.
“I like getting in the paint and getting some layups,” he said. “I’m actually kind of mad I shot 0 for 4 [on threes]. Now they’re going to back off and make me shoot more. Got to get back to the gym [and work on] that.”
This was reminiscent of Butler’s performance against the Lakers in the 2020 NBA Finals in the Disney bubble, when he averaged 26 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.
Adebayo, who missed Monday’s game against Minnesota with a shoulder injury and non-COVID illness, had 11 points and 8 rebounds in the first half, which ended with Miami ahead 61-52.
Then he scored 10 in the third – including a dunk off a nifty feed from Gabe Vincent – and finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Adebayo dominated the matchup with the Lakers’ Thomas Bryant, who was filling in for Anthony Davis, the eight-time All Star who simply cannot stay healthy. Davis – who’s averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds – is out indefinitely with a foot injury.
And Adebayo did good work defensively late on LeBron James.
“Welcome to coming back and playing 23 minutes in the second half, which was needed,” Erik Spoelstra said of Adebayo.
Good work from Butler, Adebayo, Gabe Vincent (12 points), Caleb Martin (13 points) and Tyler Herro (18) helped Miami overcome 27 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists from James, who decided to play against his former team a night after scoring 28 in a win at Orlando.
This was only the second time this season that James, 37, has played in both halves of a back to back set.
The Heat learned shortly before the game that Kyle Lowry would not be available for personal reasons.
Lowry missed 13 games last season because of a family issue that he wishes not to discuss publicly but said “kinda derailed my whole season.” This absence was related to that family issue. Lowry has missed five games this season, but this was the first game that he missed due to personal reasons.
That meant a 14th different starting lineup this season, one featuring four regular starters (Butler, Adebayo, Martin, Herro) with Vincent.
And Vincent, for the second game in a row, was very good.
“Gabe until he comes back, you realize how much we miss him, his steadiness, two way competitive nature, does it on both ends,” Spoelstra said.
▪ The Heat forced turnovers and disrupted the Lakers with their zone.
On one end, the Heat committed a season-low six turnovers.
On the other end, the Heat forced a season-high 26 turnovers.
The Heat outscored the Lakers, 19-0, off turnovers in the first half and 25-0 through three quarters and 31-2 for the game.
The Lakers started well – behind 12 first quarter points from James – but then struggled against the Heat’s zone, committed too many turnovers and missing a bunch of makeable shots in the fourth.
Victor Oladipo had three steals, giving him 13 in his past five games.
And Martin took the ball from James with over two minutes left on a key defensive sequence.
“His versatility is vital to our group,” Spoelstra said of Martin. ”Night after night, he’s taking on challenges, whether he’s guarding smaller super quick guys or bigger wings or switching onto centers.
“He’s got great instincts for deflections and steals. Our defense seems to be a whole lot more active and fast when he’s on the court.”
James had six turnovers (including three in the fourth), and Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder had four apiece.
Adebayo attributed the Lakers’ turnovers to “active hands. We were really connected on the defensive end.”
▪ Herro’s shooting percentage has been below his standards over this homestand, but he made a few key baskets and contributed mightily in other areas.
Herro stopped a 17-4 Lakers second quarter run with a three point play, and then nailed a three-pointer.
He began the third with a three to stretch the Heat’s lead to 12.
Then, with the Heat up seven, he hit a big three to push Miami’s lead to 108-98 with two minutes left in the game.
He finished 6 for 17 from the field – with several shots rimming out – and 3 for 7 on threes on an 18-point night.
He entered 30 for 74 (40.5 percent) from the field over his previous four games and 12 for his past 41 on threes (29.2 percent).
But the shooting slump isn’t a big deal, because Herro was excellent as a playmaker on Wednesday (nine assists), to go with four rebounds and two steals and the clutch basket late.
“Tyler’s playmaking was really important tonight,” Spoelstra said. “He had four shots bounce around and did not go down. I was as shocked as he was. He made some really nice plays. That’s part of his continuing evolution as an offensive playmaker that is not just scoring but [helping get] the best shot we can generate.”
▪ The third quarter, a disaster zone for Miami for much of the season, wasn’t one for the second game in a row. And Miami then survived a fourth quarter letdown.
Entering Monday’s game against Minnesota, the Heat had been outscored in eight of its previous nine third quarters.
But the Heat outscored the Wolves by four in the third quarter on Monday and outscored the Lakers by eight in the third quarter on Wednesday to enter the fourth with a 95-78 cushion.
A 25-13 Lakers run pulled Los Angeles within 102-92, and the Lakers drew as close as 105-98 with 3:59 left. Miami then stiffened defensively but the Lakers also missed several open shots.
To appreciate the full extent of the Heat’s third-quarter issues, consider that Miami is tied with Houston for the second-worst third-quarter point differential at home (minus 2.8 points per third quarter). Only Washington is worse in that area (minus 3.4).
Overall, the Heat entered 26th in the league in third quarter scoring differential at minus 2.4. Miami’s 26.3 average third quarter point total is third worst in the league.
But in the Lakers, the Heat found a team even worse than them in the third. The Lakers entered having been outscored by 3.4 points per game in the third, worst in the league.
Even after their strong start to the fourth, the Lakers ended up outscoring the Heat by only three (20-17) in that final quarter.
▪ The Heat climbed above .500 for only the second time this season by winning the final two games of this homestand.
Miami (18-17) now goes West to play Denver on Friday, Utah on Saturday, the Clippers on Monday, the Lakers on Wednesday and then Phoenix on Jan. 6.
“It’s a good win going on the road,” Adebayo said. “We’ve got five tough ones.”
The Heat, Knicks, Hawks and Pacers are clustered between sixth and ninth in the Eastern Conference, separated by just half a game. Miami stands sixth after Wednesday’s games.
Finishing at least sixth is critical because teams seeded 7th through 10th must compete in the play-in tournament.
Miami is three games back of No. 5 Philadelphia and four games behind No. 4 Cleveland.
And this was important: After losing five of its first 11 home games against teams with losing records, Miami has won two in a row at home against sub-.500 teams (Timberwolves, Lakers).
“We need as many Ws as we can get, start to turn this thing around and show everybody what we’re capable of,” Butler said.
This story was originally published December 28, 2022 9:50 PM.
Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.
View more on Youtube Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo Best LeBron James in Miami Heat Win Over Los Angeles Lakers
The Miami Heat got big performances from Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and a clutch shot from Tyler Herro to lead them to a win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Wes Goldberg and David Ramil break down the game, how Butler bested LeBron, why Bam played nearly the entire second half and contributions from Caleb Martin and Gabe Vincent before looking ahead to the toughest stretch of the schedule for the Heat this season.
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