LeBron James and Kobe Bryant ran their mouths while they jogged downcourt, not quite making eye contact during an unpleasant conversation in the closing minutes.
“Just asked him what he got for Christmas,’’ James said.
Although the two superstars wouldn’t reveal what angry words they exchanged, it wasn’t tough to pick out a few statements yesterday. While Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers got a disturbing first look at the Miami Heat, James got the last word at Staples Center yet again.
James had 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists while hitting a season-high five 3-pointers, and the Heat thrived on the holiday stage in a 96-80 victory.
Although both teams called the game a television curiosity rather than a potential NBA Finals preview, it clearly meant something to James, who had his third triple-double with Miami and the 31st of his career. James also outplayed Bryant, who scored 17 points, in his second straight Christmas win in the Lakers’ home arena, following last season’s victory with the Cavaliers.
“We’re not trying to make a statement to anyone,’’ James said. “We’re trying to show each other that we can play at a high level and try to get better every game.
“This is one game . . . We’re happy because we got better today.’’
While the Heat realize the Celtics and the Magic are much more important obstacles to their championship hopes, and although the Lakers don’t get terribly excited about playing anybody until the playoffs, there was a palpable edge in the crowd at Staples Center for this intersectional matchup — until the Heat’s steady defensive effort flattened the Lakers in the second half.
Chris Bosh had 24 points and 13 rebounds, Dwyane Wade added 18 points on a sore knee and the Heat won for the 14th time in 15 games while flustering the two-time defending champions into a terrible offensive performance, starting with Los Angeles’s 14-point first quarter.
James played a balanced, patient game, even after a technical foul near halftime for an under-the-basket scuffle with Lakers defensive stopper Ron Artest.
James’s teammates contributed enough to keep the Heat comfortably ahead, with Bosh playing an outstanding first half and Mario Chalmers contributing 13 points in a reserve role, including three 3-pointers.
Pau Gasol scored 17 points for the Lakers, who fell behind early and never caught up.
Thunder 114, Nuggets 106 — Scoring leader Kevin Durant had a season-high 44 points — 21 in the third quarter — as Oklahoma City beat Denver.
James Harden added 21 points and Russell Westbrook added 19 for the Thunder in the first Christmas game in the franchise’s three-season tenure in Oklahoma City.
Durant entered the game with a 27.5-point scoring average and a season high of 34, but he blew past the latter by the five-minute mark of the third quarter en route to his first 40-point game of the season — after having eight of them last season. He was 14 of 20 from the field.
Denver played for the second straight game without star Carmelo Anthony following his sister’s death Wednesday. Chauncey Billups led the Nuggets with 30 points and Nene had 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Knicks 103, Bulls 95 — Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton each scored 20 points, and the Knicks limited visiting Chicago to two baskets in the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, pulling away for the win.