Heat power forward Chris Bosh, who finished with 24 points, reacts after… (Rhona Wise / EPA )
Reporting from Miami
The Lakers could have finally wished their fans a Merry Christmas, along with a belated apology for their behavior back in December.
Instead, they gift-wrapped a game Thursday and handed it to the Miami Heat.
The Lakers' messy last two minutes led to Miami's 94-88 victory and ended two streaks at once — the Lakers' eight-game surge and the Heat's five-game skid.
There was no getting even for a humiliating loss to Miami on Christmas Day after Kobe Bryant committed two late turnovers and missed two long three-point attempts, one from 28 feet at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Bryant wasn't the only one at fault. Ron Artest missed an open layup attempt with 1:04 left.
Merry March, Miami.
Or as Andrew Bynum said in his own way, "We tricked it, for sure. We definitely had an opportunity to win this game and we gave it away."
Their game Saturday in Dallas is more important to the Lakers, but this one was taken plenty seriously.
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Bryant warned teammates the previous day not to stay out late in always-rocking South Beach and to make sure the game was the focus of their trip to Miami.
He had 24 points on a poor shooting night (eight for 21) and was still angry about it 30 minutes after the game. So he returned to the court and shot a slew of three-pointers and mid-range jumpers as three Heat ball boys fetched rebounds and fed him passes.
His Lakers T-shirt was wet with sweat by the time he finished. He played almost 40 minutes in the game and stayed on the court for more than an hour afterward.
"It's my job," Bryant said. "This is what you're supposed to do if you're not feeling comfortable with something and you feel like you can tweak some things."
The game ended feebly for a team that had been playing so robustly, beating Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Atlanta on the road since the All-Star break.
Bryant started it by coughing the ball up to Dwyane Wade, who fed LeBron James for a dunk and 90-88 lead with 1:27 to play.
Then Artest missed his easy shot.
Then Bryant lost the ball out of bounds while going up for a shot down low.
Then he lofted an off-balance, 28-foot, three-point attempt.
By the time the misfires were added up, the Lakers had lost, though Coach Phil Jackson took the blame.
As everyone knows, he rarely calls timeouts and often still has one or two in his pocket for end-of-game situations. This time, he called his last one with 46 seconds to play and the Lakers down by four.
"I really took responsibility for screwing up the end of the game," he said. "I had no timeouts…"
As for Artest?
"I should have made the layup, but they grabbed my arm, I got hit in my head, and then, well, goaltending too possibly, right?" Artest said. "But that's an excuse, man. I should have made the layup."
The Lakers initially thought the Heat took the rebound with the ball still in the cylinder but stepped back from their thinking after conferring with their video coordinator.
The Heat couldn't be happier, ending a five-game losing streak that tugged on the franchise and its celebrated trio of All-Stars.
"This was a very big game and we had everything riding on it," said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who complained about his touches earlier this week and had 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting Thursday.
James had 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Wade had 20 points.
The Lakers still have a chance to make their four-game trip highly successful. The overachieving Mavericks beckon.