LeBron James was sitting at his locker after the game, a bottle of cold medicine at his side.
The Los Angeles Lakers would be hard-pressed to believe it was needed.
James shook off flu-like symptoms to put up 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, hours after being told to stay away from the team’s shootaround practice, and the Miami Heat topped the Lakers 98-87 on Thursday night. Chris Bosh scored 15 for Miami, which won its second straight after a three-game slide.
”A chest cold can get to you at times,” James said. ”But I felt like I could help the team.”
Shane Battier scored 11 and led the way defensively on Kobe Bryant. Mario Chalmers finished with 10 for Miami, which led by as many as 23 points and improved to 5-1 at home. Miami moved to 5-0 this season without Dwyane Wade, who missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle. He missed three games earlier this season with left foot soreness.
No problem. James simply did his thing, yet again.
”We don’t take his talent for granted, nor do we take Dwyane’s talent or Chris’ talent,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”They’re special players and they can rise to the occasion.”
Pau Gasol scored a season-high 26 for the Lakers, Bryant scored 24 — 14 of them coming in the fourth quarter — and Andrew Bynum finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
”We tried to adjust to some things,” said Bryant, who had a four-game stretch of scoring at least 40 points earlier this month followed by a two-game total of 38 since. ”We might want to go back to some of the things that we were doing a few weeks ago in terms of me being on some spots on the floor and things where I’m most comfortable.”
Bryant put together a great late run to attempt a comeback, banking in a 3-pointer and following that seconds later with a steal and transition dunk that got the Lakers within 94-84 with 2 minutes left. But Derek Fisher’s 3-point try on the next Los Angeles possession hit the front of the rim, Udonis Haslem controlled the rebound and James made a 15-foot runner to seal the outcome.
”They were the aggressors on both ends of the floor until the last few minutes of the game,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said of the Heat. ”We were aggressive the last six, seven minutes. You can’t go over a 48-minute game against a team like this and allow them to be the aggressor for most of the night.”
It was the first time James had gone against Brown, his former coach in Cleveland. James ran over to Brown moments before tip-off for a long embrace.
”I had a great time coaching LeBron,” Brown said. ”I wouldn’t be in this suit if it wasn’t for him.”
James showed no signs of illness. In fact, he apparently felt good enough to take on two teams: the Lakers … and the Miami Marlins. James’ momentum carried him over the sideline across from the Lakers’ bench in the first half, nearly knocking over none other than Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who escaped the collision with the 265-pound two-time MVP unscathed.
Loria spent most of the next few minutes laughing. Meanwhile, the Lakers had very little to laugh about, and fell to 1-5 on the road.
”We have to control tempo and understand certain momentum shifts in the game,” Bryant said.
They shot 31 percent in the first half, their lowest output for any half this season. Bryant had as many field goals in the opening 24 minutes (one, on eight shots) as Heat forward Eddy Curry (1 for 1), who got his first NBA action since December 2009 when he checked in late in the first quarter for a 2 1/2-minute stint in which he made a basket, grabbed a rebound, was charged with a turnover and got a pair of loud ovations from a sellout crowd.
Curry returned for another stretch to start the fourth quarter, finishing his night with six points and three rebounds in six minutes. Curry said earlier Thursday that he lost about 65 pounds to get ready for his comeback, more than half of that since the start of Heat training camp in December.
”Felt great,” said Curry, who did a 20-minute cardio workout after the game. ”I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve been working hard for this moment. This is only the beginning.”
Miami’s lead was 52-37 at the half, buoyed by eight 3-pointers — more than the Heat attempted in two December games — and a sizzling defensive start in which the Lakers were forced into missing 18 of their first 24 shots. Over a 51-minute stretch going back to late in the first half of Tuesday’s game against San Antonio, the Heat had outscored the Spurs and Lakers by a whopping 137-83 margin.
There was no second-half let-up, either. James scored nine points and Bosh was 4 for 4 from the floor in the third quarter, and even with the Lakers shooting 56 percent in the period Miami pushed its lead out to 77-56 entering the fourth.
NOTES: Bryant passed Bill Russell (40,726) for 21st on the league’s all-time minutes played list. Next up: Michael Jordan (41,011). At his current pace, Bryant should become No. 5 on the NBA’s career lists in points (passing Shaquille O’Neal) and free throws made (passing Jerry West) before the All-Star break. … Ludacris was among the celebrities in the crowd. … The Heat wore new all-black alternate uniforms, giving the Lakers the chance to wear their home gold on the road. … Magic Johnson sat with Heat president Pat Riley for the second straight game. … Gasol’s previous season-best was 22. He hadn’t scored 20 in any of his last nine games.