It was not the most significant shot of the night, but somehow it was. Dwight Howard hit a triple and the Staples Center crowd erupted in euphoria. He left the game shortly after that, what else could he do?
Howard finished with 21 points in the season and 15 rebounds in the Lakers victory 128-99 over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The victory ensured that the Lakers continued their unbeaten streak against teams with lost records. They have improved to 33-7, while the Cavaliers fell to 12-28.
LeBron James scored 31 points in 12 of 16 shots, with eight assists to pass Isiah Thomas for eighth place in the all-time NBA assist list, and the game was well in the hands of his former team.
Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso and Howard each scored in double figures.
The Lakers received bad news for the game. Rajon Rondo received an MRI exam on Monday that revealed an avulsion fracture of the unplaced flying plate on his right ring finger. The injury is sometimes called a stuck finger. Last year, Rondo had two surgeries on his right hand, one of which was on his right ring finger.
Anthony Davis also missed Monday’s game, making it the third straight game he missed after suffering a bruise on the buttocks against the New York Knicks on January 7.
The Lakers played in Dallas on Friday and in Oklahoma City on Saturday, winning both games despite not having Davis for either. The next day, Davis and Rondo were among a group of players who went to Green Bay for their playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Davis, although a native of Chicago, has long been a fan of the Packers.
“They mentioned it to Rob, Rob mentioned it to me and it’s a day off and it’s something we support,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of his trip. Vogel also said that the Lakers medical team had no problems with the players who attended the game.
It was a more complete initial lineup than the Lakers had against the Thunder on Saturday, when Davis, James and Green missed the game. On Monday against Cleveland, the Lakers had all their regular headlines, except Davis, for whom Kuzma started.
They faced an exaggerated but brave Cavaliers team that came from a victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Cleveland took a slow start of the Lakers to take a 10-point lead in the first. They led only six at the end of the period, due to a buzz from Kuzma. The 21-foot jumper was Kuzma’s only attempt at seven shot attempts in the first quarter.
The second quarter was no friendlier to the Lakers and the Cavaliers extended their lead to 14. Jared Dudley’s consecutive scores reduced the lead from 12 to seven.
By halftime, the Lakers had reduced their deficit to just one. At that point, no Laker had scored in two digits, although Howard had eight points and nine rebounds. Kevin Love scored 12 points in the first half, while Tristan Thompson added 13 for the Cavaliers, two of whom followed with a small look down and some junk conversations for James.
His energy changed after the break. Directed by James, they scored 37 points, with James making the four shots he tried and scoring nine points. Overall, the Lakers made 63.6% of their shots in the third quarter. They also beat the Cavaliers in the 13-0 fast breaks. They started the game with zero fast break points in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Cleveland committed seven turnovers in the third quarter, as they sank into an insurmountable hole.