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Heat-Lakers Preview

AP - Sports

With Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade all under one roof, a matchup between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers is typically one of the season's most anticipated contests.

What transpired at last weekend's All-Star game has only amplified the rivalry.

The basketball world will be transfixed on Sunday's matinée between the Lakers and Heat at Staples Center after Wade gave Bryant a concussion and a nasal fracture with a hard foul in last weekend's exhibition showcase.

Bryant is again expected to wear a mask to protect his tender nose after being hit across the face and bloodied by Wade on a drive to the basket in the Western Conference's All-Star game victory. He had headaches and nausea shortly after getting hurt and his concussion was diagnosed Tuesday.

Wade has said that he apologized to Bryant multiple times for the foul and insisted that it wasn't intentional. Bryant has acknowledged that Wade didn't intend to injure, but it's uncertain how his teammates will respond to Wade's act.

The drama between Bryant and Miami's All-Stars, however, wasn't limited to Wade's foul.

In the closing seconds with the West leading by two points, James opted to make a dangerous cross-court pass instead of putting up the last shot. His pass was intercepted and Bryant immediately walked over to James to tell him he should have shot, according to reports.

James again passed up the opportunity to take a potential game-winning shot in Friday's 99-98 loss to Utah. The eight-time All-Star dished the ball to Udonis Haslem, who missed a long jumper just before the buzzer.

"I just try to make the right plays and do what it takes to win basketball games," said James, who finished with 35 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. "At the end of the day, games are not lost on one shot at the end or me not taking a shot. But I know the chatter will begin."

The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak by the Heat (28-8) and dropped Miami one game back of East-leading Chicago.

The Lakers (22-14) are percentage points behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division, and Bryant - the league's leading scorer at 28.8 points per game - hasn't seemed to be affected by his recent injuries. The 14-time All-Star has combined for 69 points on 24-of-47 shooting in leading the Lakers to two victories since the break.

In Friday's 115-107 win over Sacramento, Bryant had 38 points and eight rebounds while Andrew Bynum had 19 points and 15 boards. The victory was a little sloppy, however, as Los Angeles had a 20-point fourth-quarter lead cut to five.

"We stopped doing the things that got us such a big lead," Pau Gasol said. "Against Miami, we can't afford to let up at any time."

It was a sluggish start that sealed the Lakers' fate in their first meeting with Miami on Jan. 19.

The Heat jumped out to a 52-37 halftime advantage and led by as many as 23 in the fourth quarter. Los Angeles mounted a late rally but lost 98-87 - the Lakers' fourth straight defeat in the series.

The Lakers, who lead the NBA in rebounding at 45.8 per game, were outrebounded 44-38 and Bryant was outplayed by James. Bryant had 24 points on 8-of-21 shooting to James' 31 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four steals and three blocks.

"It's a good measuring stick for us to see how much we've improved since last time," Bryant said of Sunday's rematch.

Wade, who has totaled 64 points in his last two games, didn't play in the first meeting because of a sprained right ankle and the Heat could be without fellow All-Star Chris Bosh this time.

Bosh, who averages 18.4 points and a team-best 8.3 rebounds, has missed Miami's last two games due to a death in his family. He had 15 points and eight boards against the Lakers in January.

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