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NBA

The Lakers Made The Heat Look Like Helpless Little Babies

Several Heat players ineffectually harass LeBron James.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Something striking about the Lakers’ dominant 116-98 Game 1 win over the Miami Heat, beyond the shriekingly awful plus/minus numbers put up by certain absolutely vital Heat rotation guys during the all-too-brief competitive portion of the game, was the cartoonish physical difference between the players on the two teams on the television. The Lakers just tower over the Heat. It would be funny, except that it is probably insurmountable, in the way that helpless little babies cannot hope to bring down an elephant.

First, about those plus/minus numbers:

Garbage time helped Tyler Herro and Andre Iguodala avoid history, but they and the majority of their teammates sucked real bad Wednesday night. Herro, a uhhhh hero of the Eastern Conference Finals, was astonishingly bad in Game 1, especially on defense. But that becomes easier to understand when you observe him standing entirely in the shade thrown by the mass of any single Lakers wing or forward. Herro is a slim, young player, but this is ridiculous. The Heat looked like normal professional basketball players against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, just days ago. Against the Lakers they look like scrawny freshmen. Worse than that, even. They look like bloggers.

Duncan Robinson is 6-foot-8, which is not short at all, even by NBA standards. On a court with LeBron James, who is 6-foot-9, Robinson looks like a small child. He and Herro were immediately, fatally out of place whenever they were in the same quadrant of the floor with either LeBron or Anthony Davis. Jimmy Butler, who under most circumstances is one of the thickest and strongest wings in the league, looked like Timothy Q. Mouse out there. Here is a photo that should not be possible, and yet is:

Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat tries to annoy LeBron James of the Lakers, and looks like a tiny baby.
A center guarding a point guard, allegedly. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Bam Adebayo is the tallest member of Erik Spoelstra’s regular rotation, and next to LeBron he looks like me attempting to guard the Statue of Liberty. I’m not sure this dynamic was appreciated fully before the opening tip, especially when the Lakers so recently flattened a Rockets team similarly banking on execution and versatility to overcome a massive size disadvantage. The Heat are famously the NBA organization that most emphasizes fitness, but fitness can only compensate so much for outrageous differences in height and bulk. Robinson and Herro in particular are popsicle-stick figurines waiting to be blasted apart on a court with L.A.’s hulking stars. The Lakers used their size on defense to challenge and alter seemingly every shot after about the six-minute mark of the first quarter, and to get their huge arms and hands into every driving and passing lane. On offense, the Heat went whole long stretches where they simply did not have the personnel to protect the rim, and I mean at all. There were stretches of the game where Davis did not seem to even notice the small Heat men buzzing around him.

LeBron similarly enjoyed a size and strength advantage under the rim, and was not shy about letting his opponents know how little their attempts to get in his way meant to him:

The Heat could theoretically make up some ground by playing faster, shooting better, and closing out with more conviction on Lakers shooters, who knocked down an unreasonable and unsustainable 13 of their first 19 three-point attempts while running out to a 32-point lead. Hell, shooting regression alone will make this appear to be a closer series for stretches of play. But the Heat also lost Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo to injuries Wednesday night. If either of those guys miss much time the Heat are probably very dead. As an ornery Jeff Van Gundy colorfully pointed out during late garbage time in Game 1, the next men up—in this case undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn and lumbering center Kelly Olynyk—are in a lower tier of quality, even on their best days. Dragic was Miami’s top playoff scorer entering the Finals; Adebayo was the star of their ECF series against the Celtics. Those guys simply cannot be replaced with the players on hand. Miami will have to figure out a whole new theory of success for as long as those two are limited, to say nothing of out altogether.

Spoelstra said after the game that the Heat are “much better than [they] showed” in Game 1. That’s both true and also possibly irrelevant. I am much better at dancing the Macarena when I am not being trampled by a rhinoceros, but there is no quality of dancing the Macarena that will stop the rhinoceros from trampling me. There’s a point beyond which pure physical superiority cannot be overcome by execution, and this series may turn out to be a demonstration of that dynamic. The Lakers are humongous. Maybe the thing to do is to get out of the way and let them go where they’re headed.