LOS ANGELES(AP) After the Cleveland Cavaliers made the defending NBA champions look ordinary, the Los Angeles Lakers’ fans threw up their foam hands in frustration.
Mo Williams scored 28 points, LeBron James added 26 and the Cavaliers beat Los Angeles 102-87 Friday in a game that ended with angry Lakers fans throwing dozens of giveaway foam hands onto the court.
Shaquille O’Neal had 11 points in his latest Los Angeles return with the Cavaliers, who dominated the Lakers with sharp shooting and physical defense, prompting several technical fouls and retaliation hits in a one-sided matchup of title contenders.
The Lakers’ crowd lost its holiday spirit with 4:04 left when Lamar Odom’s ejection and another T on the Lakers’ infuriated bench prompted many fans to throw their pregame presents onto the court. After another foul with 3:45 left, several more foam hands were thrown along with a full water bottle, which skittered between players without hitting anyone.
Kobe Bryant scored 35 points for the Lakers, who had won 16 of 17 before Cleveland’s decisive victory behind Williams, James and the Cavs’ impressive interior play, which negated the Lakers’ usual advantages down low.
After Odom got his second technical foul in an altercation with Williams, the Lakers’ bench drew a T – apparently on purpose – for delay of game by failing to produce a substitute in a timely manner. When referee Dan Crawford whistled that T, the Staples Center crowd let its hands fly.
The foam hands weren’t the usual No. 1 finger normally found at sports events, but a representation of two puppet hands making the “LA” sign in a connection to Nike’s advertising campaign featuring puppets of James and Bryant.
But with Williams leading the way in his third straight impressive road game, the Cavs forced Bryant and the Lakers into their least impressive performance in six weeks. The loss dropped the Lakers (23-5) back into a tie with Boston atop the overall NBA standings.
If this was an NBA finals preview of the matchup that many expected to materialize last summer before Orlando crashed the party, the Lakers should be wary. Cleveland’s big men – O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao – allowed them to neutralize 7-foot starters Andrew Bynum, who managed just four points, and Pau Gasol, who had 11.
Meanwhile, the Cavs are tough to guard when James’ teammates hit their outside shots with Williams’ accuracy. James wasn’t omnipresent, but played well enough to force Ron Artest to foul out with 5:01 to play.
The Cavaliers also made certain nobody will forget about them in the Eastern Conference race, where Boston and Orlando have dominated the discussion leading up to the Celtics’ win over the Magic earlier Friday.
Cleveland never trailed and streaked to a 20-point lead in the second quarter during a run that included little help from James, sitting out while Williams sparked the Cavs. James had just two points and four assists in the quarter, which he ended with a half-court shot just after the buzzer. Los Angeles got within six points in the third before Cleveland roared away again.
Williams is on a three-game streak with at least 24 points in each of the Cavs’ victories, nailing his outside shot while outrunning Derek Fisher and the Lakers’ defense. He even bounced up after Bryant sent him to the floor in pain with a collision in the third quarter.
There’s no particular rivalry between these two franchises, or between James and Bryant, the Olympic teammates and top two vote-getters in All-Star balloting. Yet the high-profile matchup intrigued both players, with James flying his family to the West Coast for Christmas festivities.
O’Neal’s returns to Los Angeles, where he teamed with Bryant to win three titles in Staples Center’s first three seasons, no longer include the obligatory questions about whether Kobe could finally win a title without Shaq, who got boos and cheers during pregame introductions.