After several rough games, LeBron James bounced back with one of his better outings in recent weeks on Friday.
The Cavaliers (29-21) have won three of their last four despite some inconsistency from their star player. James came into Friday’s game against Miami averaging 16.8 points on 39.4 percent shooting in his last four games— almost 10 points below his season scoring average.
James has been struggling at the free-throw line, shooting 51.7 percent in February to see his season average dip below 70 percent. He was 4-of-8 from the line on Friday, but was much more successful from the field, shooting 12-of-22 and finishing with 29 points in Cleveland’s 103-79 victory over the Heat.
James, who also had seven rebounds and six assists, denied he had anything to prove to critics.
“I don’t care about that stuff, us being 0-5 on national television and LeBron not being the same player he was,” he said. “I don’t get into that. My teammates know what I’m capable of.”
James and the Cavs will be back on national television Sunday for their first meeting of the season with Bryant’s Lakers.
Oddly, whichever superstar has won the scoring battle has lost the game in each of the past four matchups. The home team has won all of those games.
Cleveland is closing a five-game homestand. Only two teams in the Eastern Conference have better home records than the Cavs’ 19-7 mark, but they have lost their last three home games against teams with winning records.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are closing a tough eight-game road trip. They are 3-4 in the first seven games, which were played over an 11-day span and included matchups with all three division leaders in the East.
The team has demonstrated the effects of the stretch in the last two games with some poor shooting, making a combined 40.6 percent from the field in back-to-back losses at Detroit and Toronto.
“I’ll go with that for sure,” Bryant said when asked about the fatigue factor after Friday’s 96-92 loss to the Raptors. “We didn’t play with the kind of enthusiasm, the kind of passion we needed for this kind of game. They jumped on us for three quarters and we managed to make a game of it somehow in the fourth, but they hit timely shots.”
Bryant led the team with 25 points, including a layup that gave Los Angeles the lead with 2:41 to play after the team had rallied from an 11-point deficit. The Lakers, however, couldn’t hold on, as Bryant missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds.
“Right now we just have to find a way to win games, win the close ones,” Lamar Odom said. “This is a long road trip for us and we haven’t finished the way we wanted to, but we have to move ahead and try to get better and look forward to the Cleveland game.”