On a night when the All-Star game starters for the Eastern and Western conferences were announced, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat showed why they deserved all the fan votes they received.
James had 39 points and eight assists, Wade added 27 points on his 31st birthday and the Heat held off the Lakers, 99-90, Thursday night in Los Angeles.
“He’s just a phenomenal player. But he does it consistently. He’s one of the best we’ve ever seen,” Bryant said of James, whose fadeaway jumper from about 10 feet essentially clinched the game as it put Miami up 96-90 with less than a minute to play. James added a dunk and a free throw at the end to put an exclamation point on his dominant game, propelling the Heat to finish 3-3 on their six-game West Coast trip.
Ray Allen scored seven of his nine points in the final 5 minutes as the defending NBA champions repelled a late charge by the Lakers, who lost for the seventh time in nine games.
“They made some big shots,” said Steve Nash. “LeBron made a couple and Ray Allen made a tough shot over Dwight in the lane. And we looked a little bit like a team that was new to the situation. We weren’t smooth and we couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
Nash added: “They played with speed. They try to speed you up a little bit. I thought we were thinking [too much] instead of just playing. I thought we grew a little bit, but we have a lot of growing to do.”
Kobe Bryant scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter for Los Angeles, which rallied for a brief lead midway through the final period before James and Allen secured the Heat’s second win in their last eight road games against the Lakers.
“We just didn’t execute very well and they did,” Bryant said. “They did a good job with their speed, and really shocking our pick-and-roll. As a result we turned the ball over quite a bit.”
Bryant shot just 8-for-25 for the game, and his struggles offensively may have been the directly result of having to guard Wade for most of the game and LeBron for parts of the fourth quarter. Playing both ends has to be taxing for the 34-year-old Bryant, who still relishes these marquee showdowns.
“I take responsibility [for the poor shooting night]. I allowed myself to be too much of a decoy,” Bryant said. “I should have been more aggressive from the start, using screens, catching and shooting. Things like that.”
Dwight Howard had 13 points and 16 rebounds, but missed two key free throws with 1:51 left while Miami pulled away, capping the All-Star starting center’s 5-for-13 effort at the line. Metta World Peace scored 16 points for the Lakers, who committed 20 turnovers and didn’t score in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
Pau Gasol had 12 points and four rebounds in his return from a five-game absence with a concussion for the Lakers, who had hoped to build on consecutive victories following a six-game losing streak that knocked them well out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Instead, James and Wade demonstrated why they’re the champions and the Lakers are in 11th place in the West.
James and Wade got little help until Allen’s late flurry, but they didn’t need it. Chris Bosh had just seven points and six rebounds in 35 minutes for Miami.
Bryant scored at least 20 points in his 23rd consecutive game, but the NBA’s leading scorer missed 14 of his first 17 shots.
The game featured four of the 10 starters in next month’s All-Star game, with Bryant edging James by roughly 7,800 votes as the top vote-getter in the final results announced earlier in the day. Wade and Howard also will start in Houston.
Bryant is headed to his 15th All-Star game in 17 NBA seasons, starting a record 15 consecutive times, while Howard will be a seven-time All-Star. While Bryant’s popularity and success are undeniable, even Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was somewhat surprised Howard had been voted to a starting spot. Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, and Clippers Chris Paul and Blake Griffin round out the starting five for the West. Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, and New York’s Carmelo Anthony join LeBron and Wade as the East starters.