88 - 105 Final
  for this game

Bryant, Lakers stifle James, Cavaliers

Jan 20, 2009 - 7:47 AM By Jonathan Raber PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Turns out, Kobe Bryant isn't ready to pass on the torch as the league's best player any time soon.

Bryant finished with 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds and took over down the stretch as the Los Angeles Lakers outdueled LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 105-88 victory on Monday.

"It was a big game for us because they're a physical team and that's been one of our weaknesses in the past - meeting that physicality" Bryant said. "I felt like it was a great test for us, along with the Boston game, to play against a team this tough."

In a matchup pitting the teams with the best records in their respective conferences and the leading contenders for the Most Valuable Player award, Bryant was the difference-maker.

"Kobe has a lot of years left in the NBA, he isn't going to get just one MVP," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "He's on the hunt for championships and to be the best player ever."

Playing with a dislocated ring finger on his shooting hand, the reigning MVP sparked a pivotal 11-1 run midway through the fourth quarter, scoring seven points during the stretch, to help turn a close contest into a comfortable 91-73 cushion.

James, who currently poses the biggest threat to dethrone Bryant in the search for his first MVP award, did his best to keep things close.

He finished with 23 points and his basket with 2:56 remaining cut the deficit to 93-85, but the Cavs would get no closer. James struggled with his shot, hitting just 9-of-25 attempts, but added nine rebounds and four steals.

"It's always great playing Kobe," James said. "When you go against the best, it brings out the best in you. He's one of the ultimate competitors we have in the game today. I enjoy going against him."

Bryant, who closely guarded James for much of the evening, did an admirable job in slowing the league's second-leading scorer.

"If he's going to go off for a big night, I'll sleep much better if the big night was done on me as opposed to going to sleep wishing I could have guarded him in certain situations and tried something different," Bryant said.

Pau Gasol had 22 points and 12 rebounds and Andrew Bynum and Sasha Vujacic each had 14 for Los Angeles (32-8), which avoided its first three-game losing skid since last year.

"The defensive effort was outstanding tonight," Gasol said. "If we keep teams under 90-100 points, most nights we are going to win most of the games."

Bryant injured his finger less than two minutes into the game after attempting to poke the ball away from James, who was positioned on the block. Bryant grasped his hand as play continued for a few moments before the Lakers were forced to use a timeout. He went to the bench where the finger was popped back into place and returned to the court without missing a play.

"I went for the ball and it just popped out," said Bryant, who underwent an X-ray after the game and isn't expected to miss extended action. "I was scared, I thought I was done. It felt like I had two fingers on one. It was disgusting."

The Lakers would need him.

Up by 10 points just minutes into the fourth, Bryant hit two consecutive jumpers over James to start the run. After a pair of free throws from Vujacic, he nailed a freebie, assisted on an alley-oop to Trevor Ariza and converted a breakaway dunk for the 91-73 lead with 6:33 left.

Despite the injury, James knew better than to discount his counterpart.

"He's a warrior," he said. "We all know about Kobe Bryant."

After James worked the Cavs back in, Ariza scored eight straight points courtesy of two 3-pointers to put the Lakers back ahead 101-85.

Mo Williams had 16 points and Sasha Pavlovic added 14 for Cleveland (31-8), which snapped a five-game winning streak against the Lakers.

"I thought they were the aggressors tonight and they got up in us and made us play quick," Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown said. "And when we play quick, we didn't always do a good job."

The Lakers trailed by one at the break but opened up a 75-64 lead with 1:31 left in the third on Vujacic's 3-pointer. The Cavs closed out the quarter with a dunk by Anderson Varejao to trail by nine heading into the fourth.