*map gthomas spt cavs¶ LOS ANGELES - With players diving for loose balls as if this was the last basketball game of the season and a crowd into things from the very beginning, Monday night's affair at the Staples Center said playoff hoops. The calendar, however, read January.
That proved of little matter to the Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers as the teams battled back-and-forth before the Lakers won 105-88.
The game featured mini-runs by each team with neither being able to take a stranglehold on the game until late in the third quarter.
In fact the just a single point separated the two at the half as Cleveland held a 50-49 lead. Despite that slim margin, it looked as if things were turning the Cavs' way with Kobe Bryant (20 points, 12 assists) held to a mere five points in the half. Bryant may have been playing possum, adding six points in the third.
The third quarter ultimately put the Cavs at a disadvantage, as the Lakers took what, in this game, passed for a commanding lead at 75-66 after the Lakers, at one point up 66-62, completed a one of those mini runs, outscoring the Cavs 9-4. It didn't hurt that they shot an impressive 63 percent in the third.
''We were getting hurt on offense. You got to give th credit to (Pau) Gasol and (Andrew Bynum),'' Coach Mike Brown said when asked about the difference in the first half and second. ''You've got to give the whole team credit, but Gasol and Bynum were a handful for us tonight. In the second half we continued to play the way we did in the first half, but the shots did not go down.''
Into the fourth, LeBron James (23 points, nine rebounds) and Bryant looked as if they were going to turn it into a classic duel between NBA superstars - the second and third leading scorers in the lead, respectively. Instead, the Lakers built on the lead established in the fourth quarter with defense their size.
''The Lakers' length bothered us a little bit, even at the rim,'' Brown said. ''They did a nice job coming over and from the sidelines.''
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson put the Cavaliers at a disadvantage for most of the night as the Lakers twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum challenged the Cavs' smaller lineup. There's little doubt that this was one of those games where the team definitely missed center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, as the Cleveland oftentimes found their lineup too small to contend with the much bigger Lakers squad.
It was a strategy that Cleveland had no answer as at one point in the floor the smallest player Jackson had on the floor, Sasha Vujacic, stood a mere 6-7 and 6-2 Daniel Gibson had the task of guarding him.
Still, despite what seemed like Herculean task with the Lakers at one point up by as many as 18 points at 91-73, the Cavaliers battled back to close within seven points with 3:32 left in the fourth quarter doing so with defense, gut and guile. At one point you could see just how drained James was standing side-by-side with Bryant waiting for the game to resume.
No can accuse Cleveland of quitting because ultimately, the Lakers' used their primary weapon - size - to their advantage. If anything it showed how much the team missed Ilgauskas in this one.
The Cavs face the Portland Trail Blazers next.
No shootout: Bryant's 20 points and James' 23 hardly qualified for a shootout. Bryant may have been affected by a finger he dislocated in the first quarter. As far as James, he was affected by Bryant's defense.
While Brown elected to put Sasha Pavlovic - who performed admirably - on Bryant to start the game, L.A. Coach Phil Jackson put Bryant on James from the start.
Life in the NBA: New York Knick Stephon Marbury, who has been embroiled in a bit of a contract controversy with his team could be seen walking the baseline at the game. He makes $200,000 for not playing against the Knicks Monday.
Quick shots: Sasha Pavlovic got hit with a Flagrant foul-1 when he nailed the Lakers' Trevor Ariza in the head as he drove to the basket for what looked to be an easy score.¶ *