MIAMI, March 17 -- Miami Heat fans booed Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant when he was introduced, on the free throw line and, at times, when he merely had the ball in his hands. They jeered him with an offensive chant. One fan frenetically waved a sign that said "overrated overrated overrated."
By the end of the night, Bryant might have been ready to join in the abuse. The Lakers, who trailed by two points entering the final period, collapsed in the fourth quarter as Bryant, a public enemy of Heat center Shaquille O'Neal during their eight -year tenure with the Lakers, endured yet another miserable second half.
Kobe Bryant gets an eyeful as Shaquille O'Neal slams home two in the Heat's 11th straight victory.
(Marc Serota -- Reuters)
With Bryant missing on 10 of 11 field goal attempts after halftime, the Heat overpowered the Lakers, 102-89, for its 11th straight victory in front of a sellout crowd of 20,272 at American Airlines Arena. The loss was the third straight for Los Angeles, which fell further behind in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Miami, which topped the Lakers in their only other meeting in December, led by two at the start of the fourth, but a 15-6 run turned the waning minutes into an exercise in frustration for the Lakers and Bryant, who scored 21 points in the first half but went cold when it mattered, finishing with 26.
Though Bryant, who has hit just three of his last 29 second-half field goal attempts, seemed at times angry on the court, exchanging words with Miami guard Dwyane Wade at the end of the first half and muttering to himself as the Lakers fell behind, he talked calmly and at length to a phalanx of cameras and reporters after the game.
He said Miami's double teams on the perimeter prevented him from cutting loose, and the Lakers' continuing struggle to adapt to the triangle offense Coach Frank Hamblen has recently installed added to the problem.
Asked whether he wanted to prove something, given his longtime rivalry with O'Neal, Bryant looked incredulous.
"Prove what?" he said. "For us, it's just a battle to get to the playoffs. That's what we are focused on. It's not about individual achievements or individual accomplishments. It's about us being focused on each other and trying to do what everybody thinks we can't do."
Though Wade acknowledged he and Bryant had engaged in "a little trash talking," O'Neal steered clear of controversial topics, deflecting questions about Bryant.
"We look at this as just another game," O'Neal said. "We made sure we did not bring anything into the locker room that is going to break our focus. . . . We have a lot of poise."
After a slow start, O'Neal finished with 25 points and concluded his night with a satisfying flourish, pounding home back-to-back, rim-rattling dunks off of feeds from Wade, who produced most of Miami's highlights early. As O'Neal struggled to find room against the Lakers' defense, Wade provided fans with soaring dunks, flying lay-ins, and even an acrobatic block of Bryant that went for naught because another Heat player was called for a foul.
The Lakers blanketed O'Neal in the first half, holding him to eight points. In the second half, particularly the final period, O'Neal attacked the hoop with a bullish determination that he seemed to lack early. By night's end, he hit 11 of 19 shots but just 3 of 9 free throws. Wade, who scored 18 in the first half, finished with 27 points. Bryant hit just 8 of 23 shots overall and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.
"We played well for 36 minutes tonight," Hamblen said. "Unfortunately, the game is 48."
At the start of the game, Bryant seemed to linger as long as possible at the Lakers' bench as O'Neal shook hands with the other Los Angeles starters. When Bryant finally got to center court, he and O'Neal extended hands in the general direction of each other but failed to connect. Bryant dismissed the missed handshake later saying, "we don't worry about it."
He was resoundingly booed during player introductions and occasionally when he touched the ball. He was serenaded with a derogatory chant while at the free throw line in the second quarter.
Heat fans, however, cheered Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Brian Grant, who were sent to Los Angeles in the trade for O'Neal last summer.
"They have the opportunity to win it all," said Butler, who scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. "They're that good."