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Friday, March 11, 2011
In win over Lakers, Heat turn the tide

By Tom Haberstroh

James and Bosh
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
In the midst of a downward spiral, the Heat turned things around in a win against the Lakers.

MIAMI -- The Miami Heat maintain that they don’t listen to the outside criticism. They say they don’t believe in the forced narratives from the media.

With their win over the Los Angeles Lakers, they effectively tore up the script, reversed the trends and busted the myths.

The conventional wisdom states that the Heat don’t have an inside presence. Against the biggest front line in the NBA, that purported Achilles' heel didn’t seem to matter.

The Heat pummeled the Lakers on the boards on Thursday night, helping to snap the team’s losing streak at five games. Led by Chris Bosh’s newfound inside orientation, the Heat pulled down a season-high 18 offensive boards.

This was unexpected. The Lakers boast three 7-footers in Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. It seemed as though the incredibly big and equally hot Lakers were the last team the Heat would want to face after losing six of their previous seven games. But what the Heat lacked in size, they made up for it with aggressiveness.

“Anytime that ball went up at the rim, there was a fistfight under that basket,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “[The Lakers] are so big and so long that they can tip it in without even jumping. Our guys are really sacrificing their bodies and catapulting themselves into a pack to try to secure the rebounds and we got the big ones when we needed it.”

The Heat lack a menacing rebounder underneath, which is certainly one of their biggest weaknesses. During their five-game losing streak, the Heat averaged just 35.6 rebounds. On Thursday, they grabbed 46, which was nine more than the visiting Lakers, who ranked second in rebound rate coming into the matchup.

“The last two weeks I would agree with [the rebounding criticism],” Spoelstra said. “Before that, we’ve been playing big. Up until about February we were one of the better rebounding teams in the league and we were outrebounding most everybody we played. And then we went through a funk and we couldn’t rebound. I’m not going to overreact to what’s happened the last two or three weeks."

But the rebounding dominance wasn’t the only oddity during Thursday’s game.

The bench came alive, waking from its dormancy over the past few games with 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-6 from downtown. The bench totaled just eight points in the loss against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, which was actually an improvement over the team’s six-point bench performance against the Chicago Bulls.

“I think our bench gave us what we needed and they made shots,” LeBron James said. “Both Mikes [Miller and Bibby] made huge shots. I think Juwan [Howard] came in and gave us some great minutes when CB [Chris Bosh] picked up those early two quick fouls.”

Howard’s 10 minutes was his first meaningful stint on the floor in more than a month.

And the surprises continue.

Remember the meme that the Heat can’t close out big games against good teams? Against the reputed king of clutch Kobe Bryant, that didn’t seem to matter much either.

With two minutes remaining and the game tied at 88-88, conventional wisdom would predict that Bryant and the Lakers would pull out the victory. But it was Bryant, not James or Dwyane Wade, who turned the ball over and missed desperate shots at the end. Bryant shot 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter, while the James and Wade combined for 6-for-10 in the final frame.

While many claimed the Heat’s late-game struggles were a product of some psychological flaw, Wade and James believe otherwise. After the game, their words weren’t focused on who got the ball for the final possessions, but rather who got the ball off the floor and in the air.

“We haven’t gotten the defensive stops, we haven’t gotten the loose balls, we haven’t gotten the rebounds,” Wade said. “I feel tonight we did all that. It’s just the little things like that. Just doing all the little things we did tonight to win the game is what did it."

The Heat pulled out a game that went down to the wire, which shook a sizable monkey off their back. Though the Heat won’t make too much of the win, it did provide an opportunity for some comic relief about the significance of the hard-fought victory.

“I think it also means that we still can’t win games within five points or less,” James joked. “We won by six tonight. I should have missed one of those free throws late in the game. We still can’t crack that five-points-or-less thing in close games.”