<
>

Streaking Lakers climb to fifth in West

4/12/2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the Los
Angeles Lakers sent a powerful pre-playoff message to their
archrivals: Watch out, Sacramento.

Bryant took over in the pivotal third quarter and finished with
34 points Thursday night, with O'Neal adding 32 as the Lakers
defeated the Kings 117-104 in the teams' final regular-season
meeting.

If the teams meet again, it'll be in the playoffs. And lingering
in the Kings' minds will be the memory of the Lakers outworking,
outhustling and outplaying them to salvage a 2-2 split of the
season series.

"This is a team we're going to have to meet in the playoffs,
and they have to know and they have to understand that it's not
going to be easy,'' O'Neal said.

Derek Fisher added 17 for the Lakers, while Chris Webber and
Mike Bibby scored 24 apiece to lead the Kings.

The difference in the teams' energy and confidence levels was
palpable, especially in the second half.

When the Lakers began to seize the momentum, they did so
decisively.

And when the Kings saw the game getting away from them, they
couldn't find a way to slow down the Lakers.

"I'm not going to make too much out of this ballgame because I
didn't think Sacramento had as much to play for, and that showed
out on the floor,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We're
starting to play with the passion I've been asking them for.''

Bryant did some of his most impressive work as the Lakers were
taking over in the third quarter, outscoring the Kings 35-26. He
scored 12 in the period, many on difficult jumpers while being
defended by Jim Jackson, as Los Angeles took an 89-79 lead into the
fourth.

Bryant completely embarrassed Jackson two minutes into the
fourth quarter, going around him with a lightning-quick move for a
thunderous dunk that put Los Angeles ahead 97-81.

"I don't put stock in it either way,'' said Kings coach Rick
Adelman, whose team has already clinched the Pacific Division.
"When we play these guys, it's always going to be an interesting
game. They won, but it's not going to affect anything.''

The double-digit lead held up for most of the rest of the game,
with Fisher sealing the win by making a 3-pointer as the shot clock
expired with 2:01 remaining for a 113-99 lead.

Los Angeles won its sixth game in a row overall and its 14th
straight at home, while Sacramento had its five-game winning streak
snapped.

"For us, it's taking another step in the right direction. We're
just trying to build that playoff intensity,'' Bryant said. "We're
still a work in progress.''

The Lakers have knocked the Kings out of the playoffs the past
three seasons. Still, the Kings have gained their respect by
playing the Lakers tougher than any opponent during their
three-year run as champions.

"It's not mental with us. We don't have a mental block when it
comes to them. That couldn't be farther from the truth,'' Webber
said.

But on this night, it was hard to see any mental toughness from
the Kings when things slipped away.

Everything started to change near the midpoint of the third
quarter, with Sacramento settling for jumper after jumper while the
Lakers seized every fast-break opportunity they could. The Kings
missed 11 consecutive shots during one stretch, allowing the Lakers
to use an 11-0 run to take a 72-61 lead.

"When you play like that against the top teams in the league,
you don't expect to win,'' Vlade Divac said.

Neither team led by more than six in a first half that ended
with the Lakers ahead 54-53 after Bryant drove through traffic for
a difficult layup just two seconds before halftime.

O'Neal had 19 points and eight rebounds at the half, dominating
his matchups with Divac, Keon Clark and Scot Pollard. The Kings had
similar advantages in the matchups between Webber and Mark Madsen
and Bibby vs. Fisher, going to those players repeatedly when those
opportunities could be exploited.

Game notes
The Kings missed their first 11 3-pointers and finished
1-for-13 from behind the arc. ... Bibby went 10-for-10 at the line,
extending his streak of made free throws to 51. He broke Oscar
Robertson's franchise record of 41, set in 1964-65. ... Jackson
spoke with O'Neal about the center's unexcused absence from
practice Wednesday. "No, there wasn't any shame or remorse,''
Jackson said. O'Neal stuck with his story that he had two flat
tires caused by potholes on Mulholland Drive. "I don't have spares
and I don't have Triple-A,'' he said. O'Neal said he does not know
what happened to the broken-down sports utility vehicle after he
got the two flat tires, claiming he simply walked away from it.
Bryant's take on the episode: "I thought I saw him hitchhiking.''