MIAMI — Then, in a Flash, all was not well with the Lakers.
After pulling out a few uninspiring victories against some even more uninspiring teams back home in Los Angeles, the Lakers began a second-straight East Coast trip on a low note.
This time it was Dwyane Wade and the previously struggling Miami Heat knocking them off of their stride, beating the Lakers 89-87 Friday night in front of a sellout crowd at American Airlines Arena.
And typically, though predictably, it was Wade doing much of the damage.
The NBA’s scoring leader scored 35 points on 13-of-25 shooting Friday night, his 11th 30-point game of the season.
Wade’s circus-shot, 33-foot, 3-pointer beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter and gave Miami its largest lead of the game at 75-63.
The Lakers somehow found a way to answer, closing the gap to one point on Pau Gasol’s free throw with eight seconds remaining in the game, and had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation, but Kobe Bryant’s fall-away jumper rattled around the basket and popped out to end the game.
“I thought it was in,” said Bryant, who had a team high 28 points. “Even when it rattled around, I thought it was going to fall. It just didn’t happen.”
Had it gone in the Lakers would’ve sent the game to overtime and earned a chance to improve their record to 22-3, despite scoring a season-low in points.
Instead the Lakers (21-4) must head to Orlando for a game tonight against a team with a record (20-6) that would immediately make them the second-best team in the Western Conference.
But perhaps more importantly, had Bryant’s shot gone in, and the Lakers continued their fourth-quarter surge into overtime and escaped with a win, they also would’ve probably escaped having to answer questions about their wretched free throw shooting (10 of 19) Friday night, their 21 turnovers, and their inability to get Andrew Bynum involved in a game against a team that starts a 6-foot-8 player (Udonis Haslem) at power forward and an unheralded second-year free agent named Joel Anthony at center.
“That’s mental,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “It’s about focusing and mentally getting there and shooting the ball. I don’t know what that was about tonight.
“In the second, Pau (Gasol) missed a couple. Lamar (Odom) missed a couple. Those are like turnovers when those happen.”
Earlier in the week, Jackson had made the team run extra sprints at the end of practice when they were unable to make 75 percent of their free throws during one of his drills.
The punishment didn’t seem to work.
“The free throw line was disappointing,” Bryant said. “But those are mistakes we can correct.”
Fortunately for the Lakers, Miami wasn’t exactly stellar at the line either. The Heat missed four of the five free throws they took in the fourth quarter to allow the Lakers a chance to get back into the game.
Haslem missed three of them, including the the technical foul shot he took after referee Scott Foster called a technical on Jackson for arguing along the sideline.
Afterwards, Jackson said he was disappointed in the technical, saying that he had turned his back on the official and walked away.
“There was no reason to give a technical,” Jackson said. “I tried to give him an opportunity to change his mind (on the initial call Jackson had an issue with), went back to my spot on the bench and he got irritated with me.”
Bryant and Trevor Ariza seemed visibly annoyed by the turn of events with 1:46 remaining in the game, though it was hard to tell if they were annoyed by Jackson, or the call. Either way, Haslem missed the technical shot and it did not affect the game.
Moments later on the next possession, Wade hit another tough runner with give the Heat an 86-80 lead with 1:37 remaining.
After Gasol broke loose for an open-court dunk to make it 86-82, Wade hit a 22-foot jump shot to stretch the lead back to 88-82.
Asked whether Wade’s performance on the somewhat incomplete Heat roster reminded him of himself on the Lakers before they acquired Pau Gasol last winter, Bryant laughed and said: “No, because if I was hot like he was (Friday), I would’ve had 50 points because I would’ve shot the ball like 45 times, not 25 times like he did. I would’ve kept going.”