The Lakers have played well of late, winning seven-of-nine entering Sunday's game at Staples. Still, they lacked what might be considered a signature win.
Fair to say they solved that problem, knocking off the Miami Heat by 10.
Here are five takeaways...
1. The Lakers brought serious energy early.
This was the rare regular-season game at Staples with a true postseason atmosphere. The building was full well before tip, and fans were on their feet long before the starting lineups were announced. Whether motivated by circumstances or pushed on by the crowd, the Lakers translated that energy into serious activity, particularly on their end. Nothing came easy for Miami, as the Lakers forced four first-quarter turnovers generating six points on the break. Andrew Bynum blocked three shots. The Heat shot only 39.1 percent over the first 12 minutes, and only 35.3 in the second.
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Metta World Peace was big on both ends for the Lakers Sunday against Miami.
At the other end, the Lakers moved the ball effectively, earning assists on nine of their 13 first-quarter field goals. Add in a red-hot Kobe Bryant, who scored a whopping 18 points out of the gate, and it was one of the best starts the Lakers have had all year, if not the best.
2. Metta World Peace was a positive force.
Quietly, MWP has really picked things up. Over the five games leading into Sunday afternoon's tilt, he'd averaged 8.3 points, 4.2 boards and 3.8 assists while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. Relatively modest numbers, but a major boost over what he'd been doing for most of the season. Sunday, the positive trend continued, and then some. While it wasn't always pretty -- some of his scoring possessions included more dribbling than a toddler learning to drink from a glass -- in the end Metta was a credible option offensively for the Lakers, hitting 6 of 10 shots for 17 points, moving the ball well (three assists), grabbing seven boards and doing some of that MWP stuff that can make him valuable. Tipping loose balls and keeping plays alive under the rack, and so on.
Defensively, Metta was a force as well, doing what he could to put a body on LeBron James and make his life difficult, clogging up passing lanes and generally making himself a nuisance. The defense is what people expect. If he can bring it while being a positive on the other end, the Lakers become a very different team.
3. The Lakers brought it defensively throughout.
Sure, the Heat were missing Chris Bosh, but they still have James and Dwyane Wade, and are one of the most explosive teams in the league. The Lakers did a good job of putting a lid on Spo & Co. throughout. Even in the third, when the Lakers lost a few points off their 12-point halftime lead, they still held the Heat to 10-of-24 shooting. Miami's success was based on what it was doing to the Lakers' offense, as opposed to a slice-and-dice job through the purple and gold. The Lakers hurt themselves on the offensive glass -- Miami had multiple third-chance opportunities in the first half and finished with 18 offensive rebounds -- but overall limited the Heat to 37.5 percent from the floor, and contained Miami's pick and roll game. James, on pace for a triple-double after the first half, was less of a factor in the second. Meanwhile, Wade struggled all day and finished 7-of-17 from the floor, getting so frustrated he picked up four fourth-quarter fouls, fouling him out of the game with 5:14 left to play.
Give Kobe a lot of credit for that, as well as MWP, who also marked him. Bryant may have been bottled up offensively after the first quarter (until late -- see below), but his activity in L.A.'s half-court D was great.
Meanwhile, their always questionable transition defense held up, holding one of the league's most productive fast-break teams to only 17 points on the run. This despite a decent amount of turnovers (18) and an offense going totally cold in the second half.
4. Miami shut off the post, and the Lakers struggled to respond.
Kobe had his way with the Heat early, getting great post position and making Erik Spoelstra pay for not sending a double, pushing the Lakers to 20 points in the paint on 10-of-14 shooting in the first quarter. From there, though, things got an awful lot tougher. They had only six more paint points in the half, and finished with 42 in the game. Miami was aggressive in its ball pressure on the perimeter, leaving little room for clean entry passes, and meanwhile fronted hard on Pau Gasol (guarded much of the second half by James) and Bryant. Not surprisingly, the Lakers struggled to score, posting only 22 points in the second, 21 in the third and 22 in the fourth (including only 14 through the first 10:30, before Miami had to start fouling).
They just couldn't find a way to effectively deal with the pressure, whether with penetration or better movement away from the ball to spring an open man. Basically, they lapsed into what typically plagues them against Miami (a very, very good defensive team): difficulty scoring the ball.
Moved out of the post early when Kobe went to town, Gasol wasn't a factor going forward, finishing with only 11 points on 10 attempts. Bynum was a little better (16 points), but save a six-point stretch starting the fourth wasn't a huge factor offensively, either.
Overall the Lakers couldn't press their advantage inside.
5. Kobe was brilliant early, and outstanding late.
After the first, Kobe was held to a lone bucket in the second, and only four points in the third. Led by Shane Battier, Miami made it much harder for him to get clean looks in his sweet spots. Late, though, Bryant turned it on. The shots weren't necessarily any easier -- Kobe's four fourth-quarter makes included a pair of difficult 20-foot turnarounds with Battier in his face -- but the results were better.
Overall, he scored nine points after returning to the game with 8:45 remaining in the fourth, more than half the team's output over that stretch. They needed buckets, and he came through.