The gantlet that awaited the Lakers in December has sometimes more closely resembled a leisurely stroll. On Friday night, though, the Lakers smashed themselves against a brick wall of a team. The Miami Heat just don’t lose at home.
Well, they didn’t until the Lakers came to town.
The Lakers held off the Heat 113-110, in a game between two of the league’s best teams that lived up to its billing.
“It’s like a heavyweight bout,” LeBron James said. “Like the old days, the old boxing Foreman and Ali type atmosphere, type rhythm, type physicality. Two teams that’s playing extremely well right now in this part of the season. Two teams that play physical, play together, play hard and that’s why they are where they are right now in this season and that’s why we are where we are at this point of the season.”
The Lakers (23-3) have now won 13 consecutive road games and are undefeated away from Staples Center. It’s the longest road winning streak in franchise history since the championship 1971-72 season, when the Lakers won 16 road games in a row and a record 33 in a row overall.
After a sloppy first half in which he turned the ball over seven times, James more than atoned in the second half, scoring 17 and making three three-pointers. He finished with 28 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
Anthony Davis finished with 33 points, 18 of them in the second half, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. JaVale McGee blocked five shots and grabbed 10 rebounds despite playing only 17 minutes.
The Heat (18-7) made clear this wasn’t going to be an easy night early, even though they were missing guard Goran Dragic and forward Justise Winslow.
“We were aggressive on defense and getting to the passing lanes and making it tough for them,” Miami star guard Jimmy Butler said.
James committed four turnovers in the first quarter, but the Lakers managed a one-point lead by the quarter’s end. Miami opened up a big lead with a 12-2 run to start the second quarter and eventually led by 14 points. The Lakers cut the lead to eight by halftime, giving themselves hope for the second half.
“We were down today because of me,” James said. “I was reckless, I was a quarterback who hadn’t got many reps with the first team today in the first half. And my teammates got on me. Told me just be myself, try and get my head out my ass and play basketball.”
Although the Lakers opened the second half with yet another turnover — their 12th as a team and James’ eighth — they quickly recovered.
James didn’t turn the ball over again. He also delivered a pair of backboard-rocking dunks before pulling up for a three-pointer that tied the score at 65 with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
In 5 1/2 minutes, the Lakers went from trailing the Heat to leading by 10. But this Miami team was undefeated at home, and the Heat were not going to have their will broken by such a turnaround.
The game stayed close until the end. Down four points with nine seconds remaining, Heat guard Kendrick Nunn made a three-pointer.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made one of two free throws, grabbed the rebound off his miss and made one of two again to give the Lakers a three-point cushion. As the clock expired, Jimmy Butler missed a three-pointer.
“Jimmy got it wide open in the corner,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, pointing out that Davis made it a tough shot. “AD made a great play to cover a teammate, got out there and got a great contest as he’s done many, many different times for us this year in those late-game situations and we were able to get a stop.”
Butler led the Heat with 23 points but missed all five of his three-point attempts.
“Something was gonna have to give tonight,” Davis said. “So we knew it had to be that type of game, very physical. Two teams battling it out. It was like a playoff atmosphere. It was really fun.”