LOS ANGELES -- For just the third time in Kobe Bryant's 18-year NBA career, the star guard did not suit up on Christmas Day.
What was even stranger was seeing the Lakers match the Heat blow for blow, for the most part.
After all, the Lakers had dropped six of their previous nine games coming into Christmas, including their past two in blowout fashion. The Heat had won five in a row and seven out of eight.
(What was strangest might have been the short-sleeved jerseys and extravagant sneakers the players wore on the court, but that's another story for another day.)
Bryant had been targeting a date with the back-to-back defending champs for a while to see how the level of his game had progressed.
"This was a really big measuring stick in terms of their activity, their speed, their size," Bryant said. "I was really looking forward to this game, to being able to measure where I was physically. Especially the time frame in which I came back, I was really looking at this game being the game where I would be in rhythm and really be able to measure what I can do and can’t do."
Instead, the Lakers were left to judge themselves as a team -- against the squad that has lifted the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of the past two seasons.
As close as they looked to one another for much of the game, the Heat made plays down the stretch when it mattered and the Lakers didn't. And that was the difference.
How it happened: Miami fell behind by 10 in the first quarter before rallying to go up by five at the half, with LeBron James (12 of his 19), Dwyane Wade (11 of his 23) and Chris Bosh (13 of his 23) all reaching double-digit scoring by halftime. That's when Nick Young got his Swaggy P mode on, scoring 12 points in the third quarter, including a late 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of James, to bring the Lakers to within two heading into the final frame. Miami surged back ahead in the fourth, with L.A. failing to execute late in that final period, whether it was Jordan Farmar missing a couple of late 3-pointers and turning the ball over to Jodie Meeks missing a three throws to L.A.'s defense not coming up with stops.
What it means: The Lakers have now lost three in a row and fell to 13-16, the first time they've been three games under .500 since they were 4-7 to start the season.
Hits: Young led L.A. with 20 points, his 15th straight game with double digits off the bench.
Pau Gasol finished with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Xavier Henry scored 14 points after going back to the bench with Farmar's return.
Misses: Farmar didn't prove to be a savior in his return from a hamstring tear, totaling just three points on 1-for-7 shooting to go with five rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.
L.A. had 17 turnovers, leading to 23 points for Miami.
Stat of the game: 57.7. That was L.A.'s free throw percentage, going 15-for-26.
Up next: The Miami game kicked off a stretch of five of six games for L.A. at home. The Lakers go to Utah for a game Friday against the 8-23 Jazz before four straight back at Staples Center.