LOS ANGELES -- The Heat’s extended dunk-a-thon during its five-game home stand continued out West on Wednesday against the shorthanded Lakers. Led by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat had nine dunks to bring its dunk total to 45 over the last six games.
Overall, the Heat scored 58 points in the paint and had 29 assists. Those are benchmarks for a healthy offense.
“Right now we’re really getting to our identity,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re really being aggressive, the ball is moving. We’re getting to the game that we envisioned.”
The Heat generated 36 dunks during its five-game home stand before flying to Los Angeles. Against the Lakers, Miami had five dunks in the first quarter alone, including a driving dunk by Mario Chalmers and the first of two show-stopping alley-oops from Wade to James.
“The process of us trying to get better, we’re right on point,” James said. “We had a couple bumps, but for the most part we have taken more steps forward than steps back and I’m excited about that.”
No Kobe on X-Mas
Kobe Bryant, who fractured his knee six games into his return from last season’s ruptured Achilles heel, answered questions before Wednesday’s game for the first time since his most recent injury. Bryant missed his first Christmas game since 1997. He holds the NBA record for most appearances on Christmas Day (15).
“It's strange to be coming in on Christmas and not playing,” Bryant said “It's really strange. It's a foreign feeling. But I'm here, I'm here to support my guys and watch them go out and play well.”
Bryant received a standing ovation from fans at Staples Center during the first quarter when he appeared on the videoboard. The future Hall of Famer expects to return this season. His recovery time is between four and six weeks.
“I was fortunate that it wasn't a meniscus or anything else, so there's nothing that I have to really do from a recovery standpoint other than letting the bones heal, and letting the fracture heal,” Bryant said. “You kind of just have to look at the injury in a vacuum.”
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni praised Spoelstra for his innovative approach to basketball.
“Erik is an unbelievable coach,” D’Antoni said. “He has played to everyone’s strengths and he’s not afraid to go against conventional wisdom sometimes. Even when they started off bad he kept pushing the envelope a little bit, kept spreading the floor a little bit more.
“When people said you can’t win going small, he did. He won. When people said you can’t win two times going small, he did. He won. People keep saying he can’t do this and he can’t do that and he keeps doing it and he keeps pushing them.”
D’Antoni, of course, mastered a form of small ball with coaching Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns. There are plenty of parallels between D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams and Spoelstra’s current vision of the Heat.
“It’s not the schemes,” D’Antoni said. “It’s hard to scout because you don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t even know if they know what they’re doing, but that’s how you play basketball.
“They know how to play basketball, and you watch them and everything they do is a flow. It’s beautiful to watch and it’s fun.”
How times have changed. Not too long ago, a former coach of the Lakers lobbed heavy criticism at the Heat. Phil Jackson on the Heat from March 2011:
“Their basketball is very much in standing with Xbox games, or whatever those games are when you play one-on-one,” Jackson said. “Basketball is not a one-on-one game. It's a team game.”