Coming into the season, little regard was given to the supporting casts surrounding Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Bryant's has exceeded its minimal expectations while James' has struggled mightily in trying to defend its Eastern Conference title.
Los Angeles (15-9) has won consecutive games and six of its past seven, while Cleveland (11-15) has been going in the opposite direction, losing nine of its last 11.
Bryant has averaged 24.7 points in seven games against the Cavaliers when James is in the lineup, and the Cleveland guard has scored 26.8 points per game in eight lifetime against the Lakers.
Bryant led the league in scoring the past two seasons, averaging 31.6 points in 2006-07, but his average has dropped to 26.8 per game thus far. While he's scoring less, the Lakers are averaging 3.7 more points as a team and their 107.0 points per game rank third in the NBA.
The Lakers' reserves have scored 38.3 points per game, giving them one of the five most productive benches in the league. Cleveland's bench players on the other hand, have averaged 23.5 points -- one of the five lowest in the NBA.
Los Angeles was slightly below its bench average on Tuesday night with 34 points in its 103-91 win at Chicago, but Sasha Vujacic had a team-high 19. He scored nine in the fourth quarter one game after scoring all 14 of his points in the final period in a 113-92 win over the Clippers on Sunday.
"(Coach Phil Jackson) showed me he has confidence in me," said Vujacic, who's averaging a career-high 7.4 points. "That was the key thing for me. I'm having fun, playing basketball the way I used to play. I'm enjoying it."
Andrew Bynum has also played a key role in the Lakers' improvement in 2007-08. The 20-year-old center began the season on the bench, but has emerged as one of Los Angeles' most effective players, averaging 12.3 points in 13 games as a starter. He's averaging 10.0 rebounds and is among the league's top 10 with 2.1 blocks per night.
Cleveland went 0-5 without James after he was sidelined with a sprained finger, and the Cavaliers are clearly a different team with the league's leading scorer in the lineup. The Cavaliers have averaged 100.0 points with James, who is averaging 29.6 points, and 82.0 points without him.
They thought things would improve when James returned to the lineup after the team had lost six straight, but Cleveland has gone 2-3 since his return, including an ugly 108-90 loss to the New York Knicks -- the last-place team in the Atlantic -- on Wednesday.
"Defensively, this is one of the worst performances that I've ever been a part of," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "And it starts with me."
Cleveland allowed the Knicks to shoot a season-high 56 percent from the field. The only team to shoot a higher percentage against the Cavaliers this season was Detroit, which shot 58 percent on Nov. 28 when James sprained his finger.
"That's not a good defensive effort," said James, who scored 32 on Wednesday. "I don't know if it's the worst we've ever played defensively. That's what Coach thinks."
The Cavaliers have given up 101.0 points per game after holding opponents to 92.9 last season.