AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Miami trimmed the Los Angeles Lakers’ lead to six points with nearly nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, and Staples Center buckled in for a big finish between two NBA division leaders.
Instead, the Heat missed their next 13 shots and scored only six more points all night.
The Lakers have two of the world’s best offensive players in their lineup, but they’re leading the overall NBA standings because of what they’re doing on the other end.
“One thing about it — if your offense is behind your defense, you’re a really, really good team,” LeBron James said. “And I’m OK with that right now.”
Anthony Davis had 26 points and nine rebounds, and James scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ seventh consecutive victory, 95-80 over the Heat on Friday night.
James hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the waning minutes to seal another impressive win for the Lakers, who haven’t lost since their season opener against the Clippers.
Davis and James both had moments of brilliance with the ball in their hands, but the Lakers are looking impressive on the defensive end during their outstanding start.
“I had high expectations about what we could be,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We have a ton of defensive talent, (and) because the care factor has been high, it’s come together pretty quickly.”
Miami went 4 of 19 in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers held the Heat to one field goal and six points in the final 8:54. LA limited the Heat to 6-of-35 shooting on 3-pointers and outrebounded them 48-37 to win a meeting of division leaders off to outstanding starts to the new season.
“It’s our way,” Davis said. “We want to be a good defensive team. That team scores, I think, 115 (points) or something a game. We knew they were coming off a back-to-back, and we just wanted them to make them make shots. They had looks they missed. For the most part, we wanted to run them off the line. They’re No. 1 in 3-point field goal percentage, and we held them to 17%.”
Butler scored 22 points and Goran Dragic added 19 for the Heat, who still lead the Southeast Division despite losing twice on their three-game Western road trip. One night after scoring 124 points in a win at Phoenix, Miami couldn’t find a consistent offensive rhythm.
“Even in the first half, we were playing this game in the mud,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Obviously, we didn’t have all of us. We’re not making any excuses by any means. That’s a great team. … It just got away from us in the fourth quarter. I still thought we were there with six points, but they just scored three straight possessions and went from there.”
Butler scored nine points in the third quarter to keep Miami in striking distance despite its 3-for-24 start on 3-pointers, including 11 consecutive misses spanning halftime.
“They put a lot of pressure on defense,” Dragic said of the Lakers. “(With) their rebounding and their skills, you have two really good players. We tried to crowd them as much as possible, and we feel like we did a good job, but then in the end they got 10 more rebounds than us, so that was probably the key.”