LeBron, Cavs Clamp Down on Lakers 94-90

Friday, December 21st 2007, 7:44 am
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ No surprise, it came down to LeBron vs. Kobe, scorer vs. scorer, superstar vs. superstar. Unexpectedly, it came down to defense, too. LeBron James scored 33 points and shut out Kobe Bryant during a man-to-man matchup of the NBA's top scorers in the final minutes and the Cleveland Cavaliers shook off perhaps their worst loss this season by beating the Los Angeles Lakers 94-90 victory Thursday night.

James, who came in leading the league with an average of 29.6 points to Bryant's 26.8, added 10 rebounds and five assists. But it was his pressure on the Lakers' guard in crunch time that helped the Cavs recover from a lousy defensive effort in a 108-90 loss at New York on Wednesday night.

During a late timeout, the Cavaliers huddled around coach Mike Brown for their defensive assignments.

James already knew his: Bryant.

``I didn't even ask,'' James said. ``I just told Sasha (Pavlovic) to go somewhere else.''

Bryant finished with 21 points, but he missed two shots with James chasing him over the final 2:23 and the Lakers collapsed in the final 4 minutes, going 0-for-8 from the floor and missing two free throws.

``We just didn't shoot the ball down the stretch,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``You can't win when you do that.''

Daniel Gibson added 15 points, Zydrunas Ilgauskas 12 and Anderson Varejao 11 with 15 rebounds for the Cavs, who held the Lakers to 12 points _ on 5-for-22 shooting _ in the fourth quarter and won for just the third time in 12 games.

Elsewhere on a light night of NBA action, New Jersey edged Miami 107-103 in overtime, and Denver outlasted Houston 112-111 in double overtime.

Lamar Odom added 19 points, and Andrew Bynum had 17 points for the Lakers, but he missed two free throws with 11.9 seconds left that would have tied it at 92.

However, on the second misfire, Bryant got away from James and grabbed a rebound in traffic before calling time with 10.3 seconds left. Bryant winked into a TV camera nearby, knowing he had at least temporarily bailed out his team.

``I told LeBron I was going to get it,'' Bryant said, laughing.

But after taking the inbounds pass, Bryant missed a long 3-pointer with 5 seconds left and Lakers guard Derek Fisher was called for a loose-ball foul despite grabbing a rebound over Gibson.

Fisher felt he had got the ball cleanly.

``There was contact,'' Fisher said. ``But I didn't push him.''

Bryant felt he had a good look at the missed 3.

``He (James) had his hands down on me. He knows better than that,'' Bryant said. ``I was going to let it fly. It felt good. As soon as it left my hands, I thought it was going down. I was mad it didn't go in.''

James was afraid Bryant had hit a game-winner.

``It looked good when I turned around,'' he said.

Gibson made both free throws with 3.3 seconds left to seal it for the Cavs.

Before facing Bryant and Co., Cleveland's coached wrote ``Defend To Win!!!'' on an dry-erase board in the locker room.

For three quarters, the message wasn't getting through to the Cavs. But they finally began clamping down in the fourth and showed some of the defensive intensity that led them to their first Eastern Conference title last season.

``When you get stops, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win,'' Brown said. ``The bench gave us a big boost.''

Cleveland trailed 78-73 entering the fourth, but with James resting and Jackson sitting Bryant and three other starters, the Cavs opened the final period with a 10-0 spurt and built an 86-82 lead with 7:34 remaining.

Lakers forward Luke Walton put in his own miss with 4 minutes left to put Los Angeles ahead 90-88, but James came back with a jumper to tie it.

And moments later, he switched on Bryant, his teammate on the U.S. national team. The two went at it in practice nearly every day during the summer, matchups Bryant said he wished the public could have seen.

The two bonded and James gained a greater respect for Bryant's game.

``Kobe Bryant is definitely the most explosive player we have in this league,'' James said. ``There's no one like him.''

Nets 107, Heat 103, OT

At Miami, Vince Carter scored 31 points, Richard Jefferson added 29 and New Jersey overcame a seven-point deficit late in regulation before winning in overtime.

Former Miami forward Malik Allen scored a season-high 18 points on 9-for-11 shooting, and Jason Kidd had 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Dwyane Wade had his second season-high scoring effort in two nights for Miami _ and saw both wasted in overtime losses. He scored 41 points on 15-for-23 shooting, a night after finishing with 37 points in Atlanta.

The Heat dropped to 3-9 at home and, at 7-19 overall, are 12 games under .500 for the first time since the end of the 2002-03 season.

Nuggets 112, Rockets 111, 2OT

At Denver, Anthony Carter hit a floater in the lane with 0.8 seconds left in double overtime to give the host Nuggets a win over short-handed Houston.

Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points and had a career-high 16 rebounds, and Allen Iverson had 36 points and nine assists for Denver, which ended a two-game losing streak.

Yao Ming had 26 points and 19 rebounds, and Luther Head scored a season-high 22 for the Rockets, who have lost three straight and five of six. The Rockets were without leading scorer Tracy McGrady, who sat out with a sore left knee.