Lakers vs. Cavaliers: In-game report
Cavaliers 93, Lakers 87 (final)
This was not how the Lakers wanted to start an eight-game, 13-day trip, and it was a game the Lakers didn't want to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But the Lakers failed to get it done in the clutch when the game hung in the balance and now have lost the two-game season series to Cleveland.
In the process, the Lakers (32-10) and Cavaliers (34-11) are basically tied for the best record in the NBA.
If the Lakers and Cavaliers finish the season tied with the best record and meet in the NBA Finals, Cleveland would have home-court advantage.
The Cavaliers won this game behind the play of LeBron James, who had 12 of his game-high 37 points in the fourth quarter. James also had nine assists and five rebounds.
Kobe Bryant had 31 points, but just four in the fourth quarter. Bryant was 12-for-31 shooting from the field.
Having seen enough, having seen James score consecutive baskets, including a three-pointer, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson called a timeout with 5:23 left and put Bryant, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol back into the game.
The Cavaliers had opened a three-point lead that was stretched to 85-80 after James scored again. When James scored again, the Cavaliers had an 87-80 lead.
The Lakers scrambled for a loose ball that wound up in the hands of Ron Artest, who made a three-pointer to bring the Lakers to within 87-83.
The Lakers came back and tied the score at 87-87. James then scored on a driving layup for an 89-87 Cleveland lead. Gasol got an offensive rebound and was fouled with 24.1 seconds left.
Gasol stepped to the free-throw line for a chance to tie the score, but he missed both free throws.
James got the rebound and called a timeout with 23.4 seconds left.
James made the first of two free throws for a 90-87 Cleveland lead, but Gasol was unable to get the rebound and then was called for a loose-ball foul on Anderson Varejao.
Varejao made both free throws for a 92-87 lead that sealed the outcome.
Cavaliers 67, Lakers 65 (third quarter)
During the third quarter tonight, the game became about defense. Neither the Lakers nor the Cavaliers were willing to budge much.
Kobe Bryant's defense on Delonte West has been outstanding. West didn't score in the first half and didn't score in the third quarter.
Bryant led the Lakers with 27 points through three quarters.
LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 25 points and nine assists heading into the fourth quarter.
It was not a good start for Andrew Bynum in the third quarter.
Bynum was called for his fourth foul when he tripped Shaquille O'Neal.
Bynum was forced to take a seat on the bench.Lakers 46, Cavaliers 44 (halftime)
Kobe Bryant carried the Lakers in the first half, and in the process he reached a personal milestone.
Bryant had 20 points in the first half, surpassing the 25,000-point barrier, which made him the youngest player in NBA history to reach that point at 31 years and 151 days. Bryant became the 15th player in league history to join the 25,000-point club. He surpassed Wilt Chamberlain (31 years 186 days) as the youngest player to reach the plateau.
Bryant, who has 25,001 points during a 14-year career, was eight-for-16 shooting from the field in the first half.
LeBron James had 18 points and five assists in the first half for Cleveland.
Pau Gasol (nine points, four rebounds) and Lamar Odom (five points, six rebounds) played well for the Lakers in the first half.
Lakers 27, Cavaliers 18 (first quarter)
It was clear from the start tonight that the Lakers were serious, that they were focused for this game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And no one was more in tune to the game than Kobe Bryant.
Bryant finished the first quarter with 12 points on five-for-eight shooting.
The Lakers shot 52.2% from the field in the first and held the Cavaliers to 35.3% shooting.
The Lakers ran out to a 9-0 lead as Bryant scored the first seven.
Andrew Bynum had more points in the first quarter than he scored during the entire game against the Cavaliers on Christmas Day. Bynum, who had just four points in that first meeting, had six points and five rebounds in the first quarter tonight.
Bynum, who experienced flu-like symptoms earlier this week, looked more active against Shaquille O'Neal.Pregame
The Lakers prepared to play the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena, both teams knowing what's at stake.
Cleveland defeated the Lakers on Christmas Day at Staples Center. The Lakers know that they need to win tonight to split the two-game series.
If the Cavaliers win the series and the Lakers and Cleveland end the regular season with the same record, the Cavaliers will have the home-court advantage if the two teams met in the NBA Finals.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was asked if it was important for his team to have the home-court advantage.
"Sure," Jackson said.
The Lakers might have gotten a break for the game because of a key injury.
Still, just because the Cavaliers lost All-Star point guard Mo Williams for four to six weeks with a sprained left shoulder doesn't mean Cleveland will be in a bad way.
Jackson said backup guard Delonte West, who started against the Lakers and will start while Williams recovers, can get the job done as well.
"West is a very talented player," Jackson said.
Jackson joked that Williams wasn't playing because he was "scared." Jackson smiled and made sure that it was a joke.
"It's unfortunate for (the Cavaliers), obviously," Jackson said. "He's a talented player and plays off LeBron (James) very well. They'll miss him, but we really respect West's game."
-- Broderick Turner
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to fake Cavaliers forward LeBron James into the air as he pulls up for a jumper in the first half Thursday. Credit: Tony Dejak / Associated Press