CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 28 points in his return after missing 11 games with a broken finger, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 100-94 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, who dropped to a new low Tuesday night in a tumultuous season.
Irving added 11 assists in 39 minutes and showed off his dizzying array of moves as the Cavs ended a five-game losing streak.
Kobe Bryant scored 42 points and Dwight Howard had 19 points and 20 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Lakers from losing for the eighth time in 11 games and to a Cleveland team that came in with only four wins.
C.J. Miles scored 28 in his first start this season for the Cavs.
Los Angeles was without starting forward Pau Gasol, who missed his fifth straight game with knee tendinitis, and point guard Steve Nash, still sidelined with a broken leg.
The Lakers fell behind by 16 points in the third quarter, and despite Bryant’s valiant attempt to rescue them, the Lakers opened a four-game road trip with a loss that could sting for a while.
As the final seconds ticked off, Bryant stood at halfcourt, his right hand resting on his hip, a look of disgust on his face. When the horn sounded, he handed the ball to an official and shared a brief hug with Irving and a long one with Cavs coach Byron Scott, who whispered something in the superstar’s ears.
The Lakers have nowhere to go but up.
Before the game, coach Mike D’Antoni, who was brought in to fix the underachieving squad of stars after Mike Brown was fired five games into the season, bemoaned his team’s defense and said the Lakers seemed to be missing a “spirit” to win.
That might not be all they’re without.
Howard, who attempted 22 free throws, scored inside to get the Lakers within 86-82, but Irving answered with a 3-pointer. Metta World Peace hit a 3 to bring Los Angeles within 89-85, but on Cleveland’s next possession, the Lakers lost track of Cavs center Anderson Varejao, who scored an uncontested layup as all five Los Angeles players watched.
Bryant hit a 3-pointer to trim Cleveland’s lead to 95-92 with 28 seconds left, but he missed another 3-point attempt on the Lakers’ next trip and there was nothing he or anyone else in purple and gold could do from there.
The Cavs went 2-9 without Irving, their sensational 20-year-old. But with him on the floor, Cleveland is a far different team and on this night better than the Lakers.
Cleveland was ahead by 12 when Irving tried to take Bryant on by himself.
Dribbling the ball between his legs at the top of the key, Cleveland’s star backed Bryant down in the lane as the crowd roared at a 1-on-1 matchup Irving proposed during the summer for charity. Irving tried a pump fake that didn’t work and Bryant easily blocked his shot as if to say, “Not yet, kid.”
The Lakers were down by 15 at halftime after allowing the Cavaliers to push them around.
Cleveland went on a 14-2 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Miles and Irving to open a 44-33 lead. After four points by Howard, Irving hit a bank shot and followed that by dribbling behind his back and nailing a step-back, 18-foot jumper to push Cleveland’s lead to 11.
Meanwhile, the Lakers looked lost, scoring eight points over the final 8:12.
During a troubling sequence, longtime Lakers diehard fan Flea, the colorful bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers tweeted, “this is the most disheartening stretch of laker basketball i have ever seen.”
Bryant showed his frustration by waving his hand in disgust after being called for traveling.
Irving wasted no time making his presence felt, making his first shot and then picking up assists on back-to-back 3-pointers by C.J. Miles as the Cavaliers built a 29-23 lead after one. Irving played all 12 minutes as coach Byron Scott kept his star on the floor to keep momentum.
Like every other opponent the Lakers have played this season, the Cavs weren’t intimidated by a team that hasn’t lived up to expectations. Varejao drove the lane and delivered a vicious dunk over Jordan Hill that he punctuated by looking over at Cleveland’s bench, which had already erupted.
Notes: Bryant didn’t know if Irving was “confident or crazy” when Irving challenged him to a 1-on-1 game during U.S. Olympic team practices. Irving didn’t back down when Bryant unleashed some heavy trash talk on the 20-year-old. “I’m the best trash talker alive,” Bryant said. “He tried to keep up. Hopefully, you’ll see a little more of that (trash talk) from that generation, guys competing against each other. It was like that when I came into the league with Charles (Barkley) and Michael (Jordan) and (John) Stockton and (Clyde) Drexler and all those guys. That’s how it was.” … Cavs G Daniel Gibson hyperextended his right elbow in the first half and didn’t return.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.