Heat hold off late Lakers’ rally
LOS ANGELES—For a few exciting minutes in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers resembled the championship-calibre dynamo everybody expected this season—making a big run and surging past the Miami Heat.
And then LeBron James calmly demonstrated why the Heat are the defending NBA champs and the Lakers are in 11th place in the Western Conference.
“We closed out the trip the right way, and we want to build from it,” James said.
“We wanted to do much better, of course, after the way we started, losing to Indiana and Portland.”
They finished up just fine at Staples Center, getting their second win in their last eight games here against the Lakers.
Ray Allen scored seven of his nine points in the final five minutes as the Heat repelled a late charge by the Lakers, who lost for the seventh time in nine games.
The Lakers challenged the champs, but James closed out the Heat’s sixth road game in 10 days with a flurry of clutch baskets and solid defensive play—often against Bryant.
“I thought we played well enough to beat them,” said Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni.
“That’s a championship team,” he added. “They turned on all the juices, so it’s a good measuring stick.
“That’s what they do, and we have to get better. We’ve got to get smoother,” he stressed.
Bryant scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter for L.A. but later lamented his lack of aggression in the first three quarters.
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 centre’s 5-for-13 effort at the line.
Miami held a narrow lead for most of the first three quarters until Bryant hit two three-pointers and two jumpers during a 14-3 Lakers’ run to an 84-81 lead in the fourth quarter.
Allen put the Heat back ahead with a three-pointer with 4:55 to play, but Bryant tied it with his third three-pointer of the quarter with 2:33 left.
After Wade hit a jumper, Howard missed two free throws—airballing the first—and Allen hit a high-arching jumper in the paint before James iced it with a short bank shot with 49 seconds left.
“On the road, when things don’t always go your way, you don’t have your momentum and you don’t have the confidence of your home crowd, you have to just find different ways to grind,” reasoned Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
“This is a perfect example of that,” he noted. “We never really got into a great flow offensively until late in the fourth quarter.”
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 West playoff picture.
Elsewhere in the NBA, the L.A. Clippers beat Minnesota 90-77, New York downed Detroit 102-87, and Milwaukee trimmed Phoenix 98-94.