LOS ANGELES, December 26 – LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers left no doubt they are a title contender, routing the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers 102-87 Friday as fans hurled objects and booed in frustration.James scored 26 points and the Cavaliers snapped an 11-game home win streak for the Lakers, whose loss in a Christmas fiasco dropped them level with Boston for the NBA’s best record at 23-5 while the Cavaliers improved to 22-8.
"It wasn’t about sending a message to them. It was about sending a message to ourselves and seeing how we match up with the best team in the NBA," James said.
"It was a good road win for us. I think it ranks up there, just because of the caliber of the team and the caliber of the players they have."
Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 35 points but Ron Artest, humbled trying to defend James, managed only 13 points and Spanish star Pau Gasol added 11 for the Lakers.
The Cavaliers lead from start to finish in a physical contest but it was not until Lakers standout Lamar Odom was ejected with 4:04 remaining that souvenir foam hands began being thrown onto the court.
When Bryant was assessed the team’s fifth technical foul seconds later, more souvenirs and a water bottle came flying onto the court.
"The only thing that you hope doesn’t happen is one of the players getting hit or a referee getting hit, especially by a full water bottle," James said. "When that came on the court, it was coming pretty fast. It could definitely hurt somebody."
Phil Jackson, who has coached the Lakers to four NBA titles after guiding Chicago to six crowns in the 1990s, said it was the most upset he can recall a Laker crowd being, the audience booing as the officials walked out at the end.
"I’ve never seen an L.A. crowd react like this before," Jackson said. "I like their enthusiasm. I don’t like their demonstrative manner.
"It wasn’t a well-refereed game. It wasn’t a very well-played game, so I think it was a reaction to that."
On a holiday filled with blowouts or sloppily played games, it was the saddest moment of all.
"It’s a scary thing when water bottles and other objects start coming on the floor like they did," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said.
Mo Williams scored 28 points and former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal added 11 points for the Cavaliers, slamming down five dunks and combining with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao to silence the Lakers’ big men.
"We know that we can match up well with anybody," O’Neal said. "I felt that it was going to be a good test for us. The Lakers are the best team in the league, they have won it before, and they have a lot of experience playing together.
"We’re somewhat a new group … but we came out and stepped up to the challenge."
O’Neal teamed with Bryant to lead the Lakers to three NBA titles and received a mix of cheers and boos when introduced.
"He definitely had a presence in the game," Jackson said. "I do know it was a factor on Kobe. (Shaq) knocked him down about four times without a call."
The Cavaliers opened a 44-25 lead, hitting 64 percent from the field and holding firm on defense in the opening series and never letting the Lakers claw their way all the way back into the game.
"We were just covering for eech other all night on the defensive end," James said. "We just slowed down and executed the right way."