The NBA has finished its highest-scoring regular season in 53 years, with teams scoring 282,127 points and a record 20 players hitting at least 200 three-pointers.
And now, with dominating defence, two low-seeded playoff teams are pushing into the conference finals.
The Lakers and Heat are largely regarded as two of the top defensive teams in a league that has seldom been more offensively oriented, and both veteran-led squads put up outstanding defensive efforts to grab 2-1 series leads in the second round.
On Monday night, Miami faces the Knicks and Los Angeles hosts the Warriors, each having a chance to take control of their respective series, owing to superior defensive play.
“We’re playing the way we envisioned the Lakers to play,” LeBron James stated. “No matter what happens, we’re going to rely on our defence.”
On Saturday, the eighth-seeded Heat kept New York to 86 points in Game 3, while the seventh-seeded Lakers held Golden State to less than 100 points for just the sixth time all season in a 30-point triumph. The victory did not determine either series, but they plainly demonstrated where both victors want to go — and how they want to get there.
In the playoffs, the Lakers’ opponents are shooting an NBA-low 41.3%, which they attribute mostly to Anthony Davis. The big man has blocked a massive 37 shots in the Lakers’ nine postseason games, while also altering many others and playing with the defensive ferocity of his finest NBA seasons, including the Lakers’ potential 2020 title run.
“The most important thing for me is that we come out with the mindset of just defending,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said after practise on Sunday. “Everything that happens offensively is more about who has it going and what actions are working.” I’m not concerned about how we’ll score as long as we’re solid defensively, beginning with (Davis).”
The Heat arrived at work late Sunday morning to view movies before splitting off for some sort of a day off. And there were plenty of options: some went to the Formula One race in Miami Gardens, while others went north to Sunrise to witness the Tampa Bay Lightning host Game 3 of their NHL playoff series.
“The guys all understand that we have to get some rest, get off your feet,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They won’t be standing around doing that kind of thing, but I also don’t want them obsessing over the game (Monday).” We need to relax, heal, and allow our minds stray to other things. South Florida is having a good time right now. It really is.”
For Miami, Jimmy Butler is on a run like no other player in Heat postseason history, despite his right ankle being less than 100%.
He has scored at least 25 points in each of his seven playoff outings. That is the Heat’s second-longest such stretch; James had 15 games with at least 25 points on his route to his first championship in 2012.
“He’s on his run right now,” said Heat centre Bam Adebayo. “He’s playing at an all-time high.”
So far in the playoffs, he’s shooting 56% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc. But, in terms of “at an all-time high,” Butler would kind of disagree.
“I think if you saw me at Tomball High School, you’d say I was way better than I am now because I was very, very dominant,” Butler said. “I’m at ease.” I’m certain. I put in a lot of effort in my trade, and I’m glad to be able to play for an organisation and a city like Miami.”
KNICKS IN THE HEAT
Miami is up 2-1. TNT will broadcast Game 4 on Monday at 7:30 p.m. EDT.
— IMPORTANT INFORMATION: New York shot 34% on Saturday, its second-worst mark of the season, and fell from 16 for 40 on three-pointers in Game 2 to 8 for 40 in Game 3. On the bright side, things can’t get much worse. On the other hand, Miami struggled offensively in Game 3 as well, shooting 39% from the field and 22% from 3-point range.
— KEEP A LOOK OUT FOR: Julius Randle. Although he had a game-high 14 rebounds in Game 3, he shot just 4 of 15 from the field and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. He shot 30% in his playoff debut in 2021, is shooting just under 35% this year, and certainly has to improve on offence.
— INJURY WATCH: Butler played Game 3 despite an ankle injury that requires care. Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks is nursing an ankle injury, while his backup, Immanuel Quickley, twisted his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 3. Quickley is “day to day,” according Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
– MIAMI IS UNDER PRESSURE. The Heat must anticipate New York to be more offensively effective in Game 4, and all the Knicks need to do to restore the home-court advantage is win one game. Miami cannot afford to let the momentum pendulum swing back to New York right now.
Los Angeles has a 2-1 advantage. TNT will broadcast Game 4 at 10 p.m. EDT on Monday.
— WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Since March, the Lakers have gone 7-0 at their downtown facility, including four playoff victories and a play-in triumph. They’ve won 10 of 11 games at home as part of a 16-5 run since St. Patrick’s Day.
— KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: The whistling. Given these teams’ diametrically opposed offensive strategies, it’s hardly surprising that the Lakers have shot 83 free throws to the Warriors’ 39. Despite the fact that Golden State was called for 22 fouls to the Lakers’ 21 in Game 3, the Warriors and their supporters are complaining about the referees’ rulings, and the tide might flip if Golden State goes to the line more or restricts the Lakers’ free throws.
— WATCH OUT FOR INJURIES: Neither club is greatly hampered by injuries, and the Lakers’ biggest advantage is Davis’ sustained excellent health. He’s almost back to full health after missing large amounts of the previous three seasons, even if Lakers fans clutch their collective breath every time he takes one of his many embarrassing falls to the floor.
Golden State is under pressure. They’ve only come back from a 3-1 series disadvantage once in their postseason history, defeating Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals in 2016 — just before that 73-win club memorably squandered a 3-1 series lead to James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.