LeBron wouldn't miss Heat-Lakers for anything
MIAMI -- Take away a fan's cell phone before the game. Pull out the TV and Internet cables. Make sure the car stereo plays Books on Tape.
Would that fan while watching Thursday night's game at AmericanAirlines Arena know which NBA star was battling illness?
As you probably know by now, Miami's LeBron James was the one told to stay away from the morning shootaround with flu-like symptoms and in jeopardy of not playing while the Lakers' Kobe Bryant was not being checked with a thermometer. But it sure looked the other way around.
In the Heat's 98-87 win, the final numbers had James shooting 12-of-27 for 31 points, with eight rebounds and eight assists to Bryant going 8-of-21 for 24 points with five rebounds and seven assists. But it was a lot worse than that when the game still counted.
The Heat led by 21 points entering the fourth quarter, with James then shooting 8-of-15 for 22 points and Bryant 3-of-12 for 10 points. Bryant spent the fourth firing away when it didn't matter, including banking in a three-pointer.
How bad was it for Bryant on Thursday? Miami center Eddy Curry, playing for the first time since Dec. 17, 2009, checked into the game late in the first quarter and scored before Bryant even had a point.
"He'd be the first to tell you sometimes you just put your hand up and just hope I miss," Bryant said about the defense played on him by Miami's Shane Battier although Bryant mostly did praise Battier.
Bryant missed plenty. As for James, there was no way he was going to miss this game.
"We all know LeBron," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "He doesn't like to miss too many games. He already missed one this year (Jan. 5 at Atlanta with a sprained ankle) and he didn't want to miss that one. He loves to play, he loves to compete and he did a fantastic job."
James isn't too shabby when he's under the weather. He felt ill Tuesday against San Antonio, and 33 points, including 17 in the third quarter, in a resounding 120-98 win.
After being better Wednesday, James had a relapse. He woke up feeling lousy, and the Heat didn't announce he would play until about two hours before the game.
"I never had a fever," said James, who certainly knew he really was needed due to Heat guard Dwyane Wade sitting out for a second straight game with a sprained right ankle. "I just didn't feel myself this morning. Just coughing, chest cold, head cold, body aches."
James already has plenty of endorsements. But if he took a certain medicine to get him going, that company should look to sign him up.
James shot 2-of-3 from three-point range. He had a four steals, three blocks and an awesome rim-rattling dunk even though he said the Heat had to call timeouts when he felt "exhausted," such as early in the third quarter.
"Just a drive," James said when asked about how he eventually began to look stronger as the game progressed. "I'm just trying to be there for my teammates throughout the game. If I'm going to be on the floor, I got to try to give it my all and not try to sell my teammates short."
James rarely does that against Kobe Bryant and his Lakers. In the battles between the two top players in recent NBA history, James, who was with Cleveland for seven years before joining the Heat in the summer of 2010, now has won five straight and 10 of the past 12.
"Anytime you go out there and you go against one of the best you want to just compete on a high level," said James, who then insisted it's "never been between me and Kobe even though we get all the press and the limelight."
Bryant's take on the lopsided way the games against James have gone lately?
Bryant could have pointed to what really has mattered lately, championship rings on his fingers from 2009 and 2010. Instead, he said that in recent games against James' teams, "They play much harder than we do."
Of course, it should be noted the Lakers coach now is none other than Mike Brown, who coached James with the Cavaliers from 2005-10. But Bryant did say that the Lakers usually do play hard.
As for Bryant, he usually doesn't shoot so poorly.
"Kobe missed a lot of shots that he usually makes," James said.
One reason was Battier, the defensive specialist whom Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called a guy they'd been trying to get for "four or five years" until he signed as a free agent last month. With Wade out, Spoestra started Battier on Bryant.
Battier immediately got in Bryant's grill. It worked, with Bryant missing his first five shots and not scoring until 1:04 was left in the first quarter. Before that bucket, the Lakers were down 23-16.
"Kobe and I have had a lot of battles, 10 years of battles," Battier said. "There's nobody in this game I respect more than Kobe for all he stands for. You have to have a short memory as a defender... I've been on the wrong end of enough 40-point games."
But not on this night, Bryant scored nearly seven points under his average. After the game, other than that one crack, Bryant really had no choice but to throw praise Battier's way.
"I always give Shane credit," Bryant said. "He's a fun guy to play against. He's extremely tough defensively and things of that sort."
How rare is this kind of praise from Bryant? He said there are only two other guys in the league who defend him as well as Battier does. The others are Utah's Raja Bell and Memphis' Tony Allen.
Before you think Bryant is slighting James, who is a fine defender, consider the two usually don't guard each other. But under normal circumstances, James might have been on Bryant in the fourth quarter.
But these weren't normal circumstances Thursday. Not because James was ailing, but because the game was all but over by then.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson