The Lakers (12-28) played well on Thursday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers (20-20) but ultimately fell short for their third loss in a row. Here are five takeaways from their 109-102 defeat at Staples Center.
1) Kobe Bryant dished a career-high 17 assists in just under Coach Byron Scott’s 32-minute limit.
Jordan Hill was the beneficiary, hitting eight of his 10 field goals on Bryant assists. Hill finished with 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Bryant also dished two assists apiece to Wesley Johnson, Ed Davis and Tarik Black, along with one each to Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Price and Nick Young.
Bryant had 19 points and finished four rebounds of a triple-double.
2) Fans at Staples Center were antsy with the Cavaliers extending their lead to 11 points in the fourth quarter with Bryant on the bench but he had already played 26 minutes through three quarters. Scott has said he’ll hold firm to that 32-minute cap.
“Yeah, I heard the fans,” he said after the game. “‘We want Kobe’ with about eight minutes left. I was going to say, ‘I want him too,’ but I’m not going to do it.
“That’s tough because I know how much he means to us, but I also know that in the long run, it’s going to be the best thing for us.”
3) Nick Young finally missed a free throw. His streak of 31 consecutive makes helped him climb to 91.3% on the season, best in the NBA. Young’s last miss was on Jan. 2.
Young’s shooting from the field wasn’t much improved, making only four of 13 shots (30.8%) to improve his percentage, just in the month of January, to 27.1%.
4) Bryant said it’s odd being treated with such respect near the end of his career.
“This is different for me, because I’m used to being hated,” he said. “It’s really unnatural. It’s like you go up against somebody and they give you a hug. It’s a different feeling, but I am really appreciative of it. It feels good. A hug feels good.”
LeBron James spoke highly of Bryant after the game.
“You don’t take it for granted,” James said of playing against Bryant. “You don’t take that for granted, for sure. You don’t have many guys that come through the sport like Kobe.”
5) James made four of 10 three-pointers, which seemed to be the primary reason the Cavaliers got some separation from the Lakers.
“When he gets his three-ball going, he’s tough to guard,” said Young. “You pretty much can’t do anything. He can create his own shot, or use his strength to get to the hole. He’s tough to guard.”
James took note that his teammate Kevin Love played through back spasms, even taking a key charge from Jeremy Lin, saying moments like that are what bond a team together.
The Cavaliers have struggled of late, notably with James sitting out with back and knee injuries.