LBJ got the last laugh on Mamba.
The Heat emerged from Staples Center with a 99-90 victory to improve to one game above .500 on the road and 26-12 overall. They've won two straight now, while the L.A. Lakers drop to 17-22 on the season, only further jeopardizing their playoff hopes in the tough Western Conference.
The Heat used a torrent third quarter to pull away after trailing by one at the half. The Heat outscored the Lakers 29-20 in the third period. LeBron scored 21 of his game-high 39 points in the second half, while teammate Dwyane Wade contributed 27 points, 14 of which came in the second half.
It was enough to hold off a surging Kobe Bryant, who saved his best for the fourth quarter, hitting four straight shots at one point, including a late three to tie the game at 90-90. But the Lakers did not score from that point onwards.
Let's have a look at tonight's post-game grades for the Heat and Lakers.
Steve Nash played a quietly efficient game, though he did turn it over four times. He hit 4-of-8 from the floor, while dishing out seven assists.
Most importantly, Nash was able to keep Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole in check, who shot a combined 4-of-13 from the floor for 10 points. It wasn't as much of great Nash defense as it was just errant shooting from Chalmers, who has been playing some of his best basketball of late.
Nash didn't have one of his typical "Nashty" games, but he got the job done and ran the offense well.
Kobe Bryant struggled badly all night, but got it going in the fourth quarter, hitting an array of shots to pull the Lakers back into the game after trailing by eight entering the quarter. Kobe's late three tied the score, and after missing 14 of his first 17 shots, it appeared the Lakers were going to be out of this one.
But you can never really count Kobe out on a bad night, as he'll find a way to get it going when the Lakers need it. Bryant's resolve tonight was something we've been seeing his entire career, yet it is no less amazing each time.
He couldn't quite get the job done tonight, and it's impossible to give him an A for late-quarter heroics in a loss, so we won't. But for a guy who shot just 8-of-25 from the floor, he almost brought the Lakers back in the game when it counted. Bryant finished with 22 points, but also had a team high six turnovers, too.
Again, no matter how good Dwight Howard's performance tonight, the underlying story will be the missed free throws. With the game 92-90, Howard earned his way to the line and missed them both. He also airballed a free throw late in the game.
That helped seal the Lakers' fate, in addition to the eight free throws he missed in his 5-of-13 night from the charity stripe. He shot well in limited shots from the floor, but his defensive impact wasn't as great as it needed to be to put the clamps on Dwyane Wade and LeBron James penetration.
The Lakers rotations are still slow, and Howard only blocked one shot on a weak-side recovery. Howard did, however, finish as the only Laker with a positive plus-minus, at plus-1 for the game.
He finished with a double-double of 13 points and 16 rebounds.
LeBron James was sensational all game, but was especially brilliant in the third quarter. James finished with a game-high 39 points and was knocking on the door of a triple-double with eight assists and seven rebounds.
James' defense was good on Earl Clark, too, who found himself with a much tougher time scoring than in recent Lakers games. Clark had averaged 15 points per game over his last three games prior to tonight's contest.
Clark did a decent job on James, but there really was no doing a "decent" job on the league's MVP. Clark has been drawing some tough assignments, in Kevin Durant, and LeBron James, but appears to be on his way to being a lock-down defender. Either way, it's hard to argue with the game from the King tonight.
Dwyane Wade had an excellent night tonight, but most especially on defense.
He forced Kobe Bryant into a lot of tough shots and limited No. 24's penetration to a large degree. The key to beating the Lakers is stopping the Mamba, and Wade did that to a 'T.'
D-Wade did his damage offensively, too, hooking up with James for several alley pop dunks, helping to account for his five assists. Wade's 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting was an efficient game, and while many eyes are on LBJ's eye-popping line, Wade almost quietly had a brilliant game.
Chris Bosh disappointed last game against the Golden State Warriors, when he scored 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting with six rebounds on Jan. 16. A night later and a short ways away at Staples Center, he followed up with another stinker.
Bosh had just seven points going against the tough man-to-man defense of Dwight Howard, and he was ineffective on the glass, too (grabbing just six rebounds).
The Heat were out-rebounded again, 42-35, but the margin wasn't as bad as in the losses to Chicago, Indiana and Golden State. So, Erik Spoelstra will take improvement as it comes. But Bosh better start improving individually, notwithstanding the Heat victory.
Grade: C -
The Lakers got good contributions from Pau Gasol (12 points, four rebounds, four assists), Metta World Peace (16 points, three rebounds) and Earl Clark (whose defense was far better than James' 39 points would lead you to believe). They got next to nothing from Chris Duhon and Darius Morris, but that's kind of standard.
Ordinarily, it could be said the Lakers have a Big Four, but that's been down graded to a Big Three, and Gasol is now a complementary player. You're welcome.
As usual, the Heat got meager contributions from their non-Big Three. The supporting cast of the Heat contributed 26 points on 9-of-28 shooting. Ray Allen was solid off the bench, contributing nine points, but he was still under his season average.
Allen's best contributions came in giving Kobe Bryant more work defensively chasing the NBA's all-time three-point leader around screens.
Grade: C +