LeBron James shrugged off flu-like symptoms to deliver a game-winning 31 points as the Miami Heat beat Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers 98-87 in the clash of the NBA’s two biggest names on Thursday.
The Heat, missing injured guard Dwyane Wade, were on top from the first quarter and never looked in danger after establishing a 52-37 lead by halftime.
James, whose involvement was in doubt until shortly before tip-off, ended the game with eight rebounds and eight assists after putting in 37 minutes, more than any of his teammates.
“There were a few times I felt exhausted and luckily there was a timeout. I felt like I knew I could help the team. If I’m going to be on the floor I have to try and give it my all, and we were able to get a key win,” James told reporters.
James put up a league-leading eighth 30-point game this season, showing little sign of the illness which had seen him sent home from the morning shoot-around.
“You could not even tell anything was wrong with him,” the Heat’s Chris Bosh said.
As always, the game was billed as “LeBron vs Kobe,” and James now has a 11-5 record in head-to-head games against Bryant, but he was quick to play down that particular aspect.
“It’s never been between Kobe and I, even though we get all the press and the limelight. I’ve been in this league long enough that I don’t have to prove anything to Kobe and he doesn’t have to prove anything to me,” James said.
Bryant came into the game averaging a league-leading 30.8 points, the only player more prolific than James, but was limited by the Miami defense in the first half.
Although he ended the game with 24 points, most of those came with the game well out of reach for Los Angeles — with Bryant putting up 14 fourth-quarter points, including the final 11 points of the game for his team
At halftime, Bryant had just six points to his name and a woeful one-of-eight field-goal success rate after being particularly well-watched by Shane Battier, an off-season signing who was standing in for Wade.
Although Bryant finished with a flourish after a belated attempt at a rally by Los Angeles, it was a disappointing night for the 33-year-old.
Spaniard Pau Gasol was the top scorer for the Lakers with 26 points.
The Heat lost three straight games on the road before returning home and beating the San Antonio Spurs 120-98 on Tuesday, while the defeat drops the Lakers road record to 1-5 this season.
MAVERICKS 94, JAZZ 91
In Salt Lake City, Utah, Shawn Marion scored a season-high 22 points, including a late layup that helped clinch Dallas’ narrow win over the NBA’s hottest team.
The Mavericks were coming off back-to-back last-possession losses to the Lakers and Clippers, but this time were on the right end of a close finish.
Utah came from 13 points down at one point to lead by three early in the fourth quarter. The game was tied 87-87 before Jason Terry hit a three-pointer and Marion a layup.
Al Jefferson led Utah with 22 points.
ROCKETS 90, HORNETS 88, OT
In Houston, Texas, the hosts survived one of the worst fourth quarters in team history by edging New Orleans in overtime.
Kevin Martin scored 27 of his 32 points in the first half, while Samuel Dalembert grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds for the Rockets, who led by as many as 14 points and looked to be cruising to a fifth straight win.
However, they scored only seven points in the final quarter as the Hornets forced the game to overtime.