|Kobe Bryant took it to Dwyane Wade and the Heat Sunday. (Getty Images)|
By Matt Moore
Maybe all he needed was a reason to make it personal. Kobe Bryant has struggled against LeBron James over the past four years as James has risen to become one of, if not the best players in the NBA. Bryant's Lakers lost games to James' Cavaliers and both matches with the Heat last year, and one earlier this season. But after a hard foul from Dwyane Wade in the All-Star game gave him a concussion and broken nose which required him to wear a mask Sunday against the Heat, things changed. Despite Bryant saying that he didn't take offense to the foul, he certainly looked like a man possessed.
Bryant scored 33 points on 23 shots, a model of efficieny as the Lakers downed the Heat 93-83 to improve to 3-0 since the All-Star Break. He hurt the Heat from every angle with every type of shot. He worked in the flow of the offense, something he's struggled with this season and which has hurt the Lakers' offense repeatedly. Bryant would never admit that Wade's foul on him during the All-Star game had an effect, but it was clear that Bryant was zoned in to win this game.
It may not have been a revenge game, but it sure looked like it.
In the bigger picture, the Lakers bullied the Heat defensively Sunday, and that was the real difference maker. They shut off their transition opportunities and in the halfcourt bodied, shook, jarred and shoved them around. It was a physical contest and yet the Lakers were the more aggressive team overall. That tough defense only drew 15 free throws on 17 personal fouls versus the Lakers' 29 free throws on 23 personal fouls.
Most impressive may have been Metta World Peace, who has struggled the past two seasons, but had 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals, hitting 2-4 from the thraee-point line and a series of dagger turnarounds. Basically, if the world ended Sunday night you couldn't be all that surprised. MWP was everywhere defensively, badgering James and making steals and saves to dirsupt the Heat offense.
The size advantage for Miami was huge, especially with Chris Bosh missing another game due to personal reasons. The Heat had no way to stop or deter Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and the twin towers pounded them on the offensive glass. Let me put it this way. In the fourth quarter, LeBron James was trying to wrap-around passes to Juwan Howard for finishes in traffic. You can imagine how that worked out.
The Lakers are playing the best ball of their season right now, the Heat on the third game of a West Coast road trip without Bosh. But it was a statement game for L.A. all the same, and one they needed.
The worst of the night has to go to Dwyane Wade, who shot 7-17 for 16 points and fouled out with five fouls, including one late useless bump on Kobe Bryant. Wade was frustrated with the physical play by L.A. all afternoon (Wade only shot two free throws), and seemed bothered by the intensity of the game and Bryant in particular.
Turns out it's never wise to make a snake angry.