LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dwight Howard had 22 points and 14 rebounds in his return from a three-game injury absence, and the Los Angeles Lakers snapped their six-game losing streak with a 113-93 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.
Kobe Bryant scored 23 points for the Lakers, who finally earned their first victory of 2013 while ending their longest skid since February 2007. Howard went 9 for 11 despite his injured shoulder while leading Los Angeles to a comfortable victory over the lowly Cavaliers, who beat the Lakers last month.
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters scored 15 points apiece for Cleveland, which has lost seven of nine. Alonzo Gee added 14 points for the Cavaliers, who fell behind by 19 points in the first quarter of their second stop on a five-game West Coast road trip.
Cleveland (9-30) is barely ahead of Washington (6-28) for the NBA’s worst record.
Steve Nash had 10 points and nine assists for the Lakers, whose skid has been severe enough to cause fans to worry about this star-packed roster’s playoff chances even in mid-January. After Oklahoma City ran the Lakers out of Staples Center on Friday night in a 116-101 victory, a downbeat coach Mike D’Antoni told his players that “our season starts Sunday.”
Opening day went well for the Lakers, but much bigger challenges loom — including the Miami Heat’s visit on Thursday.
Pau Gasol missed his fourth straight game for Los Angeles with a concussion, while top backup Jordan Hill is likely out for the season with an injured hip. Earl Clark had another solid game in the starting lineup with 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while Antawn Jamison added 16 points and hit four of the Lakers’ 13 3-pointers.
Howard injured the labrum in his shoulder earlier this month during a game against the Clippers, and he aggravated the injury last Sunday while grabbing a career high-tying 26 rebounds against Denver. He sat out for the past week to rest the injury, but didn’t appear limited while patrolling the paint against the Cavs despite committing seven turnovers.
Although struggling Cleveland seemed to be an ideal slump-buster, the Cavs beat the Lakers 100-94 last month in Cleveland, Los Angeles’ third straight road loss in the series.
Before the game, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott declined to follow the lead of fellow ’80s Lakers greats Magic Johnson and James Worthy in hammering the current Lakers for their defense and Mike D’Antoni’s coaching. Scott understandably has bigger concerns than his ex-teammates-turned-pundits who have mercilessly ripped D’Antoni, Howard and even Bryant in recent weeks.
Los Angeles looked sharp early, taking 37-18 lead in the final minute of the first quarter on a 3-pointer by Bryant. But the Lakers committed turnovers on six straight possessions late in the second half, allowing Cleveland to trim their lead to nine points.
The Lakers still scored 57 points in the first half with 17 assists on their 20 field goals.
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