(AP) — The Miami Heat took down one Los Angeles team in their last game. They’ll only wait two days to get a shot at the other one.
If LeBron James continues his stellar stretch of play, the Heat have to like their chances to continue their recent domination of the visiting Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
James is in the midst of another MVP-caliber season and has been all but unstoppable during Miami’s four-game winning streak, averaging 30.8 points and 72.9 percent from the field.
He scored 30 and shot 9 of 11 to lead the Heat to a 111-89 victory over the Clippers on Friday, lifting a team that was without Chris Bosh and Ray Allen due to the flu. Miami (33-14) improved to 21-3 at home.
“He’s the best player in the game and he’s continuing to reinvent himself,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This guy isn’t trying to shy away from work ethic or preparation. He’s getting after it. Our film sessions, he treats them like he’s a coach. He sees something, he’ll point it out to the guys.
“He’s continuing to improve. And quite frankly, we need it.”
James is shooting a career-best 56.0 percent, and his 42.0 percent 3-point shooting is a sizeable improvement from last season’s 36.2 mark that was also the highest of his career.
“I want to continue to push the button, continue to get better, maximize my potential and not waste an opportunity,” said James, averaging 31.7 points in his last three games against Los Angeles.
He scored a season-high 39 and shot 17 of 25 to lead the Heat to their fifth win in six meetings with the Lakers, 99-90 on Jan. 17.
The Lakers continue to seek offensive continuity despite having the chance to close out a seven-game road trip with 5-2 record.
Los Angeles (24-27) has followed a four-game skid by winning seven of nine, though the most recent victory – 100-93 at Charlotte on Friday – wasn’t exactly impressive. The Lakers trailed by 20 in the second half.
Kobe Bryant came to the rescue by scoring all 20 of his points after the break and finished with eight assists and seven rebounds. The star guard, however, wasn’t pleased with his team’s offensive execution.
“We have to play the right way,” Bryant said. “When we have shots available, we take them. If we don’t, move the ball on. It can’t be about individual touches. It can’t be about that.”
The Lakers are still having trouble taking care of the ball despite their surge, averaging 14.8 turnovers during the 7-2 stretch – just below their season mark of 15.3 that’s among the most in the league.
Acting as the facilitator for the offense, Bryant’s 5.3 assists per game are his most in five seasons and he’s averaging 8.1 in the last nine contests.
“I think in the future that is how you’re going to see us play with Kobe getting guys involved early on,” reserve forward Antawn Jamison said. “Seeing how it goes, and then as the game goes into the fourth quarter he begins to take over a little bit.”
Bryant struggled to find his shot in the first meeting, scoring 22 but going 8 of 25 from the floor as the Lakers committed 20 turnovers to six by the Heat. Dwyane Wade added 27 points for Miami.
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