LeBron James and Cavaliers take final round with Kobe Bryant and Lakers

There were just enough moments for Lakers followers to savor — plenty of wham-bam plays and a solid Kobe Bryant effort in the final countdown of his career.

If only there was some defense.

It's hard to win when you give up 95 points in the first three quarters, a wall the Lakers smacked into as their two-game winning streak bounced to an end.

They stunned the Golden State Warriors and defeated the Orlando Magic, but their fun run fell apart Thursday night in a 120-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Bryant's season-long inaccuracy was not a problem. He scored 26 points on commendable 11-for-16 shooting in his final game against LeBron James.

"It was everything for a competitor like myself and I know for himself," James said after the game. "I know he was not taking this game off and I definitely wasn’t taking it off, so it was great to be out there for sure.

"For the both of us, we are two sportsmen ... we love the lights and get up for the best moments and for us to give the fans and give our beautiful sport one last opportunity to watch us both on the same floor and give them a show, it was great."

The Lakers' other season-long issue hurt them.

They got away with bad defense Sunday against the Warriors, the top team in the Western Conference. It wouldn't happen against the East's top team. The Cavaliers' score-by-quarters showed 33-31-31-25.

Lakers Coach Byron Scott grimaced when asked about it. He said something about the Lakers not sticking to the game plan, and if it called for not getting into a shootout with the Cavaliers, they failed.

The Lakers are 27th in the NBA in defense, giving up 107 points a game.

It didn't matter that Kevin Love sat out for the Cavaliers (46-18) because of a sore knee. Channing Frye took his spot and scored 21 points, making five of seven three-point shots.

James (24 points) and Bryant basically canceled each other out. D'Angelo Russell (24) did a nice job of almost matching Kyrie Irving's output (26 points), though Russell didn't shoot as cleanly (eight for 19).

Frye and JR Smith (17 points) were the ones who were too much for the Lakers (14-52). It didn't help that their best player had an off night, Jordan Clarkson scoring five points on two-of-12 shooting.

It was fun to watch the first half. It felt exactly like an All-Star game.

Each team had its mini-shows before Cleveland took a 64-55 edge into the locker room.

Tarik Black turned over the ball in the lane and it was thrown quickly out to Smith, who dribbled downcourt with James and threw an off-the-backboard pass to James for a dunk.

The Lakers weren't just bystanders at first.

Bryant delighted the Staples Center crowd by hitting fadeaways and connecting on a smooth up-and-under move. Julius Randle (15 points, nine rebounds) had a strong first-quarter dunk after cruising past Smith and beating Tristan Thompson to the rim.

Scott acknowledged feeling like a fan while watching James and Bryant one last time.

“That's an epic matchup of two of the best,” he said. “Kobe, it seemed like he had a flashback himself.”

Bryant or James played in each of the last nine NBA Finals, but they never played against each other in the playoffs.

“There were years where we could have faced each other ... it just never worked out,” Bryant said. “A real rivalry never developed. Rivalries aren't made in the regular season. ...

“You've got to duke it out where it really matters.

“I'm disappointed for the fans because you want to really see that.”

Bryant got a standing ovation when he checked out with 2:10 left.

There are 16 games left in his career, and in the Lakers' ever-shrinking season.

Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 11, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "James takes final round - Cavaliers star is outscored by Bryant in their last meeting, but East leaders roll. - CLEVELAND 120 LAKERS 108" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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