No advantage in Arco
Bryant, Lakers negate Kings' homecourt edge to go up 3-0
Updated: Saturday May 12, 2001 2:50 AM
In the playoffs, that's the difference between overanxious contenders like the Sacramento Kings and cool champions like the Lakers.
Bryant scored 26 of his 36 points in the second half, and Shaquille O'Neal had 21 points and 18 rebounds as the Lakers beat the Kings 103-81 on Friday night for their 14th straight victory and a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Lakers will go for a sweep in Game 4 on Sunday, which would likely set up a meeting with Midwest Division champ San Antonio in the conference finals.
"It could have been a tense situation, but we didn't let it get to us," O'Neal said. "We took their crowd out of it, and we had an easy night. It was no big deal. Now we're looking to close it out on Sunday."
Webber had 28 points and 14 rebounds for Sacramento, which entered the game with the backing of its frenzied fans and a game plan to slow O'Neal's dominant play in the series' first two games.
But the Kings, who haven't been this far in the playoffs in two decades, admitted they didn't handle the pressure of facing the Lakers in a game this big. The result was an easy victory for Los Angeles, and several Kings all but admitted the series is over.
"Just because you're playing at home doesn't mean you're going to win," Webber said. "Just because you have the best fans in the world doesn't mean you're going to win. I think it would have been a different series if we would have brought our energy."
Bryant, who played second fiddle to O'Neal in the Lakers' first two victories, got in early foul trouble, and missed 10 straight shots at one point. But he made his last seven shots, and scored nine straight points during a critical second-half stretch as the Lakers calmly broke open a tight game.
"You don't know how much experience can help you until you go through it," said Bryant, who made 16 of 19 free throws. "We know how to finish games now, and we do it."
O'Neal, who set an NBA record by getting more than 40 points and 20 rebounds in each of the Lakers' first two victories in the series, also got in early foul trouble and often couldn't get free from Vlade Divac and the Kings' double-teams.
"That's the beauty of having a one-two punch," O'Neal said.
O'Neal didn't get rolling until late in the game, when he wore a broad smile as the Kings futilely fouled him on consecutive layups. Sacramento fell apart in the fourth quarter with bad shots and turnovers, and O'Neal got an early rest after Los Angeles made a 17-8 run to put the game away.
The Kings, who lost to the Lakers for the seventh time in their last eight meetings, were indecisive and inaccurate in a performance that was sometimes painful to watch for the league's highest-scoring team. Sacramento shot 35 percent and missed all but the last of 14 3-point attempts.
"We were so impatient offensively. We're just killing ourselves," Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. "They're a quality team, but that was mostly our doing, what we did to ourselves. ... We're a little deflated now."
Webber missed 14 shots, and the rest of the Kings didn't contribute much. Peja Stojakovic, the Kings' second-leading scorer, again was hounded by Rick Fox into a poor-shooting night, finishing with 14 points.
Last season, Sacramento lost two first-round games at Staples Center before winning twice at Arco to force a fifth game.
But the Kings, who thought their shooting problems in Los Angeles might change back home, began with one of their most lackluster halves of the season, quickly draining the energy from their fans. Sacramento missed 14 of its first 16 shots in the second quarter.
The Kings fell behind by 13 points in the first quarter and 17 shortly before halftime, but O'Neal and Bryant both sat out much of the second quarter with fouls, and the Lakers weren't able to build more than a 46-37 halftime lead.
It was the Lakers' turn to go cold in the third quarter, when they missed 12 of their first 16 shots and let the Kings pull back within four points. But Bryant scored 11 points in a four-minute stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, and the Lakers gradually pulled away.
Notes: NBA commissioner David Stern visited Sacramento for the first time in five years. He recalled his first visit to the city when the original Arco Arena was little more than "a warehouse," then hailed the city's fan base and ownership as "a commissioner's dream. This is our smallest town, and it's our loudest building. This is just as exciting as anything I've ever seen in this league." ... Jackson arrived in Sacramento a few hours before game time after watching his son graduate from the University of Colorado earlier in the day. ... Fans behind the basket taunted O'Neal with dozens of photographs of Cindy Crawford. Earlier this week, O'Neal admitted his boast of a sexual relationship with the supermodel was a lie.