Cavaliers-Lakers Preview

If there is indeed a rivalry between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, then it has been exceedingly one-sided in James’ favor.

On pace for his fewest wins since his rookie season, James will try to continue his dominance of the Lakers when the Cleveland Cavaliers head to Los Angeles on Thursday night.

James returned to the Cavaliers’ lineup Tuesday in Phoenix after missing eight games with an ailing left knee, but he was unable to prevent Cleveland (19-20) from losing its sixth straight and ninth in 10 games. The 107-100 defeat dropped the Cavaliers under .500 for the first time since they were 6-7 on Nov. 24.

Yet despite the outcome and continued losing streak, Tuesday’s contest seemed to feature a full-strength James – a fact both he and coach David Blatt believe bodes well for their upcoming schedule.

"I thought he was terrific," Blatt said. "I mean that’s not new for anybody but I just thought he laid it out there and that’s not an easy thing. He hasn’t played a competitive game in eight games. I just thought he was terrific."

James finished with 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting for his highest scoring total since Dec. 12.

"(Wednesday) at practice my lungs were burning … I couldn’t make those moves two weeks ago," James said. "To come back and feel the way I like to feel was pretty cool."

Less praise was directed toward Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love as they continue to adjust to their supporting roles. Both finished with nine points and combined to shoot 7 for 25 from the field, while Irving committed a season-worst eight turnovers and Love did not play the fourth quarter.

"Everybody’s a little surprised, but I don’t look at that team," Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Cleveland’s losing streak. "I got my own problems. I don’t look at what they’re doing or how they’re playing."

Like James, Bryant also returned Tuesday and picked up a loss as Los Angeles (12-27) fell to Miami 78-75. Bryant posted one of the worst shooting nights in his career, converting 3 of 19 shots for a 15.8 field goal percentage.

Bryant sat in three of Los Angeles’ previous four games.

"The hard part is sitting down for stretches and then trying to get back in," Bryant said. "I feel like the Tin Man, you know what I mean? But that’s just part of the process, part of the challenge. It’s not something I’m whining or complaining about. I’ll just work through it and get my legs used to playing again."

He expects to be on the court again Thursday to take on James – an opponent he has struggled against in the past. James has won 12 of 15 matchups with Bryant dating back to 2006, scoring 28.9 per contest and topping the 30-point mark in three of the past four meetings.

Bryant has been less successful, especially in recent contests. During James’ stint with Miami, Bryant averaged 24.7 points in six matchups but notched only one victory.

Irving has scored only 13.0 points over his last three games with the Lakers, but could see an improvement on Thursday given Los Angeles’ porous defense. The Lakers own the second-worst scoring defense in the league, allowing 106.8 points per game.