James, Heat too much for Lakers
by David Leon Moore, USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES — In Game 3 of the Los Angeles Lakers’ self-proclaimed “new season,” did they prove they could play defense against an elite team?
Did they prove they could stick with an elite team most of the way?
Did they prove they could beat an elite team?
No. Not an elite team with LeBron James on it, anyway.
James (39 points on 17-for-25 shooting), Dwyane Wade (27 points) and Ray Allen hit clutch shots down the stretch to propel the defending champion Miami Heat to a 99-90 victory Thursday night.
The Lakers won their previous two games, drubbing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. Kobe Bryant called Thursday’s matchup with the Heat “a measuring stick” for what the Lakers, who recently lost six games in a row to fall to 15-21, believe is a much-improved product.
The verdict: Yes, they’re improved, and they played the Heat to a standstill — 83-83 — through 3½ quarters, with the Staples Center faithful rocking with renewed hope.
But the Lakers fell to 17-22, confident they’re an improving team but still out of the current playoff picture.
Bryant, the league’s leading scorer who told USA TODAY Sports Wednesday that winning a third scoring title this year means nothing to him, played a facilitator role early in the game, passing up open perimeter shots to pass the ball inside to Dwight Howard and others.
When he started shooting, he was cold, and he finished with 22 points, missing 17 of 25 shots, though he did tie it at 90 with a three-pointer with 2:12 left.
The opening minutes couldn’t have gone much worse for the Lakers, as they committed turnover after turnover and the Heat scored their first eight points on dunks, two by James and two by Wade.
But the Lakers weathered that storm and settled into something of a defensive battle — Lakers? Mike D’Antoni? Defensive battle? — for the rest of the half.
The Lakers continued to struggle with taking care of the ball — they committed 16 first-half turnovers, including four each by Steve Nash and Bryant — but outshot and outrebounded the Heat and took … [For more on LeBron James, Heat too much for much-improved Lakers, click here.]