|The Lakers probably won't be seeing the Heat again this season. (Getty Images)|
In the end, the Lakers' annual Grammy road trip was a massive success. At least relative to the rest of the season.
The Lakers went 4-3 on the trip, almost equaling their previous total of road wins (they were 5-15 away from Staples before the trip started). Considering their position and performance, that's really not all bad.
That is if their circumstances were different. Starting the trip with a 20-25 record was a problem, and one that required an almost impossible task of near perfection.
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Here's how the trip went: They beat the Timberwolves, Pistons, Nets and Bobcats. They got waxed by the Celtics, blew a fourth-quarter lead against Phoenix, were humbled by the Heat and oh, lost Pau Gasol for 6-8 weeks along the way too.
Yet, after each of the four wins, the buzz around the Lakers built with cries of them figuring things out, of them turning things around, of them finally establishing a level of play they're capable of. It's the Lakers, I get it. But perspective is key, and outside of the Nets, the wins were against less than top competition, and the losses were mostly humiliating.
Sunday's game against the Heat was maybe the best example of the latter. The Lakers were with the defending world champs for a lot of the day, playing together and using effective defense to keep their heads in it. But a 12-of-18, 30-point performance from Dwyane Wade, and a 12-of-18, 32-point performance from LeBron James sunk the one-dimensional Lakers.
As the fourth quarter melted away, so did the Lakers. Miami's defense stiffened, Kobe's facilitating disappeared, and the Heat's superduo dominated. Consider this strange Lakers stat from Sunday: Kobe had nine of his team's 16 assists. The next-highest assist number was two, from Steve Nash.
The Lakers were simply outclassed by a far more superior team. The Heat are what the Lakers were supposed to be this season, but in both meetings against them, Miami has shown what it got right and the Lakers got wrong in building a superteam.
The Heat play together, stay cohesive and unified, while still understanding roles and responsibilities. The Lakers are a collection of talented veterans that don't know how to function as anything other that mostly individuals. Kobe's ventures into facilitating sometimes alleviate the issues, but that's just not who he is as a player -- and it's limiting his overall offensive effectivenss.
Each loss for the Lakers is maginified now because time is running out to turn it around. A 4-3 road trip would've been fine if this team were meeting all of our preseason expectations, but being in the hole that they are, every time they don't win digs them a little deeper. The teams on pace to be eighth in the West are likely to hit around 44 wins. If the Lakers are to hit that number, they'd need to go 20-10 the rest of the way, a .666 clip.
And I think think we'd all agree this trip felt like a step forward for them, that they played better basketball, yet it was just a .571 clip, which isn't good enough for that pace.
More than that though, Sunday was a reminder that just battling for a postseason slot is probably the ceiling for this team. The Lakers and Heat are two very different teams, headed in two very different directions. The Heat are much better, in basically every way, shape and form. The fact the Lakers have stayed competitive in both games is a product of their effort, and Kobe.
But there's a serious, blatant gap. Funny to think the Lakers were thought to be challengers to the Heat's crown this season back in August.
And really, Sunday's matchup is almost assuredly the last time these two teams will meet this season.