The Los Angeles Lakers earned their ninth straight victory Monday, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 128-99 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
LeBron James returned to the lineup after a cold forced him to miss the Lakers' 125-110 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. Los Angeles was, however, without Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo.
The result allows the Lakers (33-7) to strengthen their lead atop the Western Conference, with 5.5 games separating them from the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.
The game was competitive through the first half as the Lakers trailed 48-47. Los Angeles pulled away in the third on the strength of a 37-point quarter.
The fact that LeBron exited with 5:32 remaining spoke to how much L.A. was in control as the night wore on.
- LeBron James, SF, Lakers: 31 points, two rebounds, eight assists, one steal
- Dwight Howard, C, Lakers: 21 points, 15 rebounds, two assists
- Kyle Kuzma, PF, Lakers: 11 points, three rebounds, two assists, one block
- Kevin Love, PF, Cavaliers: 21 points, 11 rebounds, three assists
- Darius Garland, PG, Cavaliers: 16 points, two rebounds, four assists, two steals
- Tristan Thompson, C, Cavaliers: 17 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal
Dwight Howard Puts in Season-Best Performance
The Dwight Howard redemption tour continues apace.
According to NBA.com, the Cavaliers were allowing an average of 52.8 points per game in the paint, second-most in the league. That played into Howard's hands perfectly as he tormented Cleveland around the rim. He came off the bench to set season highs in points and rebounds.
Howard even made a three-pointer for good measure.
James presents a mismatch to basically any player in the NBA. That's exponentially true when Cleveland is throwing out Cedi Osman at the 3. Osman and LeBron might be friends, but that gets left at the door when the whistle blows.
The four-time MVP never really took it out of first gear yet nearly posted a double-double.
James also celebrated a historic achievement, as his eight assists moved him ahead of Isiah Thomas on the all-time list.
In general, this was a by-the-numbers victory for the Lakers. They were sluggish out of the gate and reset at halftime. Once they locked down on defense and got out in transition, the Cavaliers didn't stand a chance.
Tristan Thompson Makes Case as Trade Target
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported in December the Cavaliers were prepared to hear trade offers for Kevin Love. Largely because of the $91.5 million owed to Love over the next three years, finding a worthwhile deal for the five-time All-Star won't be easy.
Cleveland has already offloaded Jordan Clarkson to the Utah Jazz, so the team is clearly looking to cash out on some of its trade assets. In terms of the frontcourt, Tristan Thompson—not Love—is arguably the likelier candidate to move.
Thompson's inability to score outside of the paint obviously limits his value, but Monday's game displayed why he can help a team with playoff aspirations. He cleaned up the glass and made eight of his 11 field-goal attempts.
Thompson also showed no fear when he threw down a two-handed dunk on LeBron in the second quarter. Granted, it may not have been a good idea.
Darius Garland figures to be a big part of the Cavs' next phase. He looked overmatched to start the season, which wasn't surprising for a rookie guard who played five games in college.
The 19-year-old is beginning to come into his own more, a trend that continued Monday.
This year promises to be another painful one for the Cavs in terms of wins and losses. Garland's improvement at least gives the franchise some hope it has a dynamic talent around whom it can focus its rebuild.
The Lakers host the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. The Cavs (12-28) stay in L.A. on Tuesday to play the Los Angeles Clippers for the third leg of their six-game road trip.