Last night’s pulverization of Golden State, LeBron James' 20,000th point and 5,000th assist were enough to flip the narrative machine from “the Heat will be unable to repeat because they can’t grab a rebound” to “Miami is unstoppable and LeBron is the greatest player of all time”.
Tonight’s matchup against the Lakers might have the most narrative potential of any single game this regular season. If Miami soundly defeats the Lakers, then the Lakers will be washed up with no chance of competing. If the Lakers pull out the victory, then the team has finally clicked, the switch has been flipped, and they will be a team to look out for in the playoffs. Leaving all those stories aside for the moment, let’s look at some actual data to gain some reliable information.
For all the chatter about how terrible this season has been for the Lakers, they actually haven’t been that bad. I’m sure they would prefer to have a winning record, but they are the seventh-ranked team by our nERD metric and, by our calculations, still have a 52.1 percent chance to make the playoffs. It’s not great, but it’s hardly the decline in performance it’s been made out to be.
The Lakers offense, thanks largely to Kobe Bryant, is quite good. They score a sixth-ranked 108.7 points per 100 possessions. A much bigger problem is the defense; despite having the lowest foul rate in the league, they allow a 22nd best 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Their biggest problem on this end of the floor is that they rarely cause turnovers – a mere 12.7 percent of the time. So, there are issues, but there’s no call for panic.
He’s Still Got it
Kobe Bryant, age 34, is still one of the elite players in the league. Offensively, he’s having a tremendous year. While 29.9 points per game is pretty much always impressive, he’s accomplishing this while in the midst of his most efficient shooting season in his career, with an effective field goal percentage of 52.8 percent. While the numbers don’t necessarily back up the narrative that he’s become an elite stopper on the defensive end with his 106 defensive rating, he’s still the best player on the team and the No. 5 player by our nERD rankings with a mark of 14.7.
For all their size, the Lakers have not been very effective at grabbing rebounds on either end of the floor, ranking No. 10 in offensive rebounding percentage and No. 17 in defensive rebound percentage. None of this would be that big a deal if not for the fact that this team has both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol – sometimes at least. That said, they still have a significant advantage over Miami in this aspect. Rebounds are Miami’s biggest weakness, and if the Lakers can beat them there, they just might get the media on their side again by picking up the win.