The headlines spoke for themselves during the March 4, 2012, showdown at Staples Center between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, in one of the more widely publicized NBA matchups of the year. Not only did it signal Kobe Bryant taking on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but there was also some hostility in the eyes of the media following a recent exchange.
Fresh off of the All-Star break, the Lakers fans loudly jeered at Wade during his introduction and each possession. This was due to Wade’s play on Bryant during the All-Star Game, which resulted in a broken nose.
It also didn’t help that Bryant had suffered a concussion on that play in Orlando, during a game that many All-Stars considered an exhibition. However, two of the greatest shooting guards of all-time saw it as another opportunity to go head-to-head, carrying over into the March 4 affair.
While the injury was unintentional, it led to Bryant unveiling the ‘Masked Mamba,’ a period during which he dominated the NBA while wearing a transparent or black mask.
Although Wade might have anticipated a little something extra as a means of retaliation, he and Bryant both admitted that it would have been foolish not to expect anything but the best from the Lakers legend. Los Angeles delivered the first blow of the game, getting out to a 28-20 lead after the first quarter.
The starting lineup of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Metta World Peace, and Derek Fisher was a battle-tested group, assembling a 22-14 record thus far in a lockout-shortened season. However, James, Wade, Mario Chalmers, Joel Antony, and Udonis Haslem were formidable opponents.
The key loss for the Heat was in the paint, with Chris Bosh not suiting up while attending his grandmother’s funeral. That meant an ideal scenario for the twin towers in Gasol and Bynum, who would combine for 27 points, 23 rebounds and five blocks.
Trailing 50-38 going into the halftime, the Heat just didn’t seem to be on par during a road trip across the country to California. In fact, the Lakers would never relinquish their lead over the final 44 minutes of the contest, with Bryant negating any legitimate comeback attempts.
World Peace also deserves credit for his defensive effort against James, while also contributing 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. The Lakers remained on cruise control in the second half, finishing off the Heat with a 93-83 victory.
Bryant put together his third straight 30-point game while wearing the mask, scoring 33 points on 14-for-23 shooting. The confines of Staples Center were a welcomed sight for the Lakers, as they improved their home record on the season to 17-2.