for this game

James outduels Bryant as Cavaliers top Lakers

Feb 16, 2007 - 8:29 AM LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- LeBron James finally mastered the game's easiest shot.

Struggling from the line all season, James nailed huge free throws down the stretch and outdueled superstar Kobe Bryant as the Cleveland Cavaliers posted a 114-108 victory over the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.

James scored 38 points as the Cavaliers defeated the Lakers for the second time in four days. Los Angeles now has lost a season-high five straight games and 11 of 15 overall.

"It's rough," Bryant said of the skid. "You just have to come out of it. The (All-Star) break comes at a perfect time. It will give us a chance to get away from the game a little bit and come back with a renewed energy."

Most effective when taking the ball to the basket, James either scores or gets fouled on hard drives to the hoop. This season, it would be smarter to hack the superstar forward, who entered the game shooting just under 70 percent from the stripe.

"LeBron attacked tonight. When he attacks like this, he's very hard to guard," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "He didn't waste any dribbles. He didn't waste any movement. He was very decisive with what he wanted to do when he caught the basketball. Everything he did was with a purpose."

On Thursday, however, James was prolific at the free-throw line, shooting 18-of-22 for the game, 8-of-10 in the fourth quarter and 3-of-4 in the last 20 seconds to secure the victory.

"I just go out there and make them. I know I can shoot free throws," James said. "I shot 77 percent at the free-throw line last year. It's just a mental thing, but I think I found my niche."

Even Bryant has confidence in James' ability to knock down foul shots.

"He went through a period where he was struggling at the free-throw line," Bryant said. "It happens, and he'll come out of that funk and start knocking down his free throws and get his rhythm back."

With Cleveland leading by one point with 20 seconds left, James was fouled and made 1-of-2, but his miss was tracked down by Anderson Varejao, who grabbed the rebound after a mad scramble with numerous Lakers in the lane. With the extra possession, James was hacked again and nailed both foul shots to make it 112-108 with 12 seconds left. Los Angeles did not get closer.

"We can find some awful ways to lose a ballgame," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who is suffering through his longest slide with Los Angeles. "We can't (even) rebound a free throw on a missed shot to give us an opportunity to tie or win the game. (Not doing that) even seems to come back and haunt us."

Guarded by Bryant - an All-NBA defender - for much of the game, James put on an impressive performance, shooting 10-of-16. Eric Snow collected 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists for Cleveland, which shot 47 percent (35-of-74).

"It's just the simple fact that we don't want to take this game for granted just because it's the last game (before the All-Star break)," James said. "You say, 'OK, well, we played well the last few weeks and we can pack it up and get ready for the All-Star Game.' That's not what this team's about. I came out with energy and my team fed off that."

Trying to match James, Bryant scored 34 points on 9-of-22 shooting for the Lakers, who shot 42 percent (36-of-86) en route to their fourth straight home loss.

However, Bryant denied he and James are forming a rivalry.

"He's just a fantastic player," Bryant said. "He played with a lot of energy, took the ball to the basket and got to the free-throw line quite a bit. Rivalry? I've been part of real rivalries. This is just a game."