LeBron James, despite illness, leads Miami Heat over Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James began the day sick as a dog. Better than being Kobe Bryant, who ended it that way.

Playing without Dwyane Wade and a less-than-healthy James, the Heat dominated Bryant and his Lakers 98-87 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. James missed shoot around Thursday morning with flulike symptoms but turned in one of his best performances of the season, scoring 31 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists.

The Heat held the Lakers to less than 40 percent shooting through the game’s first three quarters and improved to 5-0 this season in games without Wade, who missed his second game in a row with a sprained ankle. The Heat is 3-0 against the Lakers during the Big 3 Era.

“It’s just a drive and wanting to be there for my teammates,” James said. “If I’m going to be on the floor, I’m going to give it my all and not sell my teammates short.”

Bryant and James entered the game first and second, respectively, in the league in scoring, but the much-anticipated shootout between the stars never materialized. The Heat’s Shane Battier started just his second game of the season with the sole purpose of limiting Bryant. It worked.

No rest on ‘D’

Bryant had just 10 points entering the fourth quarter and began the game 1 of 9 from the field. He finished with 24 points on 8-of-21 shooting.

“When you take his discipline and add it to a definitive system … he can be very effective,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Battier, who was acquired this offseason mainly for his ability as a perimeter defender.

Battier deflected credit and deferred to his teammates.

“You have to have great team defense,” Battier said. “If Kobe came off a pick and roll or a screen there was a big guy with his hand in the passing lane, and that’s when you can be effective against the top players in the league.

“All this great mano-y-mano one-on-one stuff is a great story line, but it’s not really true,” Battier said.

A testament to the Heat’s intensity on Thursday, it outscored the Lakers 17-4 in second-chance points.

James put the Heat ahead by 19 points with 4:49 left when he stole a pass from Derek Fisher then sprinted the length of the floor for a powerful dunk. Bryant cut the Heat’s lead to 10 points with two minutes left in the game, but the Lakers never seriously threatened the Heat’s lead.

“[James] was patrolling defensively for us, creating some havoc, and then offensively he was very aggressive,” Spoelstra said.

The Heat (10-4) dominated the first three quarters of the game and led by 21 points entering the fourth quarter. The Lakers (10-6) managed 20, 17 and 19 points in the first, second and third quarters, respectively.

Racing ahead

The rout was on after three quick points from James with 7:22 left. It was followed by a shot-clock violation by the Lakers. The Heat led 90-69 after James stuffed Lakers center Andrew Bynum at the rim with six minutes to play.

Chris Bosh finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. The Heat was 9 of 18 from three-point range, with Battier making 3 of 7 attempts. Led by eight points by Udonis Haslem, the Heat’s bench outscored the Lakers’ reserves 24-17.

Center Eddy Curry made his debut in a Heat jersey with 1:20 left in the first quarter. He scored 30 seconds later and showed promise during his six minutes. He finished with six points and three rebounds.

“It felt great, the ovation,” said Curry, whose first name was chanted by the crowd during the fourth quarter. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been working hard for this moment.”

Said Bosh: “[Curry] has really been busting his butt every day, and he was able to come right in and help this team out and we’re going to need him as the season goes on.”

Deep offense

The Heat led 52-37 at halftime and did it with three-points shooting, making 8 of 13 from behind the arc. Battier was 3 of 6 from three-point range in the first half, and Mario Chalmers was 2 of 3. Mike Miller and James Jones both made their only three-point attempts.

The three-point barrage was the continuation of a trend. In the four quarters between the second half of Tuesday’s victory against the Spurs and Thursday’s first half against the Lakers, the Heat was 20 of 28 from three-point range.

Source:  Miami Herald