LeBron James dominated the much-anticipated game between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers, scoring a season-high 39 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists in his team's 99-90 road victory.
Turnovers proved costly for the Lakers in the first half Thursday night at Staples Center, although they were able to take a slim 45-44 lead at halftime thanks to strong rebounding and accurate 3-point shooting.
Power forward Pau Gasol, who had missed the previous five games with a concussion, also played well for Los Angeles in the first two quarters and ended the game with 12 points and five assists.
But James, the reigning league MVP, and sidekick Dwyane Wade, who scored 27 points and was the only other Heat player in double figures, were unstoppable against a Lakers team that has struggled to contain opponents throughout the season.
The defending champs showed efficient offense, led by James' 17-of-25 shooting from the field and Wade's 11-of-20.
By contrast, Lakers star Kobe Bryant was way off with his shot, going 8-of-25 from the field for 22 points.
Center Dwight Howard dominated the boards with 16 rebounds but scored only 13 points on just seven field-goal attempts in a losing effort.
The game provided further evidence of how far the Lakers, off to a highly disappointing 17-22 start, are from title contention.
Just making the playoffs is the big concern now for Los Angeles, which came into the season with sky-high expectations after the offseason acquisitions of Howard, a three-time defensive player of the year, and point guard Steve Nash, a two-time league MVP.
Nash had a quiet night, finishing with nine points and seven assists.
In other NBA action Thursday night, the New York Knicks routed the Detroit Pistons 102-87, the Los Angeles Clippers continued their strong play with a 90-77 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns 98-84 for their first road win against that Western Conference opponent in 26 years. EFE