Although Kobe Bryant hates to disappoint everybody who thinks his 33-point performance in a win over the Miami Heat was payback to Dwyane Wade for breaking his nose in the All-Star game a week ago, that particular Hollywood fable just isn't true.
"He knew I was going to be ready regardless," Bryant said.
Yet the legend of the Masked Mamba will only grow after the Los Angeles Lakers finally struck a few blows of their own in this previously one-sided matchup with mighty Miami.
Bryant produced his third straight dynamic 30-point game while wearing a clear protective mask over his still-tender nose, while Wade managed just 16 points before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 93-83 victory Sunday.
Metta World Peace scored 17 points while leading a solid defensive effort for the Lakers, who have won 17 of their last 18 home games and eight of 10 overall. Andrew Bynum had 16 points and 13 rebounds as Los Angeles never trailed in the final 44 minutes against Miami, snapping a four-game skid in Bryant's head-to-head matchups with Wade's Heat.
"We did extremely well," said Bryant, who had just 24 points in the Lakers' loss in Miami six weeks ago. "I felt like we matched their energy and their physicality, which was a problem for us in Miami."
Just one week after Wade also gave Bryant a concussion with that hard foul in Orlando, Bryant scored 18 points in a dynamic first quarter. He added enough big baskets in the second half to keep the Lakers ahead with help from his starting frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Bynum and World Peace, which combined for 44 points and 30 rebounds while Chris Bosh remained out of Miami's lineup.
Although the Staples Center crowd roundly booed Wade during pregame introductions and the first few times he touched the ball, Wade apologized profusely after the All-Star game to Bryant, his fellow U.S. Olympian. Bryant insisted he bore no grudge, saying Wade would never injure him on purpose.
Bryant has spent much of the last week in dark rooms to ease his injuries, and he plans to keep the mask when the Lakers make a three-game road trip next week.
"I got hit in the face a couple of times tonight, and it hurt even with the mask," Bryant said.
LeBron James had 25 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Heat, who lost on the final two stops of their three-game trip after nine consecutive victories. Only Mike Miller's jumper with 21.4 seconds left saved Miami from its lowest-scoring performance of the season.
Mario Chalmers scored 15 for the Heat, who played their third straight game without Bosh after the All-Star forward attended his grandmother's funeral on Saturday.
"We all know that Chris is a big part of our team, but guys have to step up in his absence," James said. "We could have definitely used him the last couple of games, but we gave ourselves a chance to win in Utah. Today was a little bit different. They played exceptionally well. That's a really good team. They're 17-2 at home for a reason. We gave it everything we had, and when you do that, you can be satisfied."
Wade didn't seem satisfied after going 7 for 17 and committed five turnovers before fouling out with 5:14 to play, committing three fouls in rapid succession for an early end to a rough day. Wade and James were both out of sync for long stretches, as evidenced by their combined 2-for-5 performance at the free-throw line from a duo that averages more than 15 foul shots per game.
Wade fouled out for just the fifth time in his regular-season career and the first time in 259 games since Oct. 29, 2008.
"I don't foul out much," Wade said. "I guess I had the red flag on me today, but you're not going to get me to comment on the referees. I like my money in my pocket."
Driving to the hoop and hitting fallaway jumpers with equal grace, Bryant went 8 for 10 and earned a handful of standing ovations in the first quarter. Los Angeles led 50-38 at halftime, with the Heat exceeding their lowest-scoring half of the season by just one point.
"We couldn't quite get over that hump in that initial five-minute burst," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They came out with a great deal of energy. Bryant was very efficient and very aggressive to start, and from that point, we were just playing catch-up the entire game."
The crowd jeered Wade off the court after he committed three fouls in less than three minutes, picking up his sixth when he foolishly tried to reach over the 7-foot Bynum's back to stop an alley-oop pass.
Notes: Before the game, Spoelstra confirmed Bosh will rejoin the Heat when they return to Miami for Tuesday's visit from New Jersey. Without the 6-foot-11 All-Star, the Heat's starting lineup featured nobody taller than 6-9 Joel Anthony to defend Los Angeles' two 7-footers. ... Wade is the first Heat player to foul out of a game all year. ... Fans near courtside included Denzel Washington, Lil Wayne, David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Terry Crews, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, KISS guitarist Paul Stanley and Jets QB Mark Sanchez.