Lakers’ effort comes up short in 107-97 loss to Miami Heat

MIAMI – Well before this season veered on the path toward self-destruction, the Lakers eyed the Miami Heat as the main roadblock toward a 17th NBA championship.

Instead, the Lakers wondered if they can still stack up with them as they continue clawing back into playoff contention.

The short answer: no. Oh, the Lakers made the game compelling enough to stay within striking distance up through the midway point of the fourth quarter. But then the inevitable happened en route to a 107-97 loss Sunday to the Heat at American Airlines Arena.

Miami’s talent, athleticism and discipline became impossible to overcome. LeBron James epitomized all these qualities. He toyed with Metta World Peace and Earl Clark on endless drives and jumpers en route to 28 points on 10 of 26 shooting. His fast-break dunk that gave the Heat a 97-88 lead with 3:11 left cemented Miami’s XX win in the past five games, if he didn’t already moments earlier off a fast-break lob.

But the Lakers’ failure to end their Grammy trip greater than 4-3 mark goes beyond James’ unmatchable talent. It also illustrates other issues that sound painfully familiar for the Lakers.

The Lakers struggled on transition defense, conceding 19 fast-break points. In what served as one example how Pau Gasol’s long-term injury to his right foot will prove costly, the Lakers 36-28 in the rebounding department. Dwight Howard scored only 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting and nine rebounds partly because of Miami’s relentless fronting and partly because of the physical issues that still limit him.

Sprinkle in a dose of Dwyane Wade (25 points), Mario Chalmers (13 points) and Chris Bosh (12 points), and the Lakers walked away without a signature victory they hoped would provide enough evidence they’re truly turning around their season.

The Lakers provided some evidence they could upset the defending champions.

Kobe Bryant become more of a scorer with 26 points on 10 of 18 shooting, but still tallied nine assists. Earl Clark provided energy once again with 18 points and nine rebounds. The Lakers kept the game within single digits, trailing 93-88 with 3:56 left in the game.

But then the Heat reeled off an 11-4 run in the next two minutes and never looked back.