Work in Sports
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Now that's "Showtime."
Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Glen Rice gave the star-studded crowd at the Staples Center the show they came for, combining to overwhelm the Sacramento Kings, 117-107, in the opener of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
O'Neal, a lock for NBA Most Valuable Player honors and the league's leading scorer during the regular season, tied a playoff career high with 46 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked five shots.
"The first game is always the hardest and after the first, the second game is the hardest, especially when you have home-court advantage," said O'Neal, who got swept out of the West semifinals by eventual NBA champion San Antonio last season. "It was a good team effort today. The guys played hard and we won."
Bryant had 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists and Rice added 18, seven and four for Los Angeles, which carried over its regular-season success and began the bid for its first NBA title since 1988 with a convincing performance.
"It was a great game played by the three people who carry us a lot," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "(O'Neal) showed me in today's game that he was ready to play."
"This is a good win to get under your belt," Bryant added. "We should be able to improve our game each night. We have been able to move the ball consistently and the big fella has controlled the middle."
O'Neal scored 17 third-quarter points as the Lakers opened a 91-79 lead entering the final period. Sacramento cut the deficit to 105-99 when former Laker Vlade Divac hit two free throws with 4:33 to play. But Bryant knocked down a 15-footer and O'Neal made a layup off a perfect feed from Rice and dunked with 3:04 remaining as Los Angeles opened a 111-99 cushion.
O'Neal, who also put up 46 in a first-round series against Portland in 1997, sank 21-of-33 shots, 4-of-5 free throws and committed only two turnovers in 46 minutes. Bryant made half of his 22 shots and Rice went 7-of-12 from the floor as the high-flying trio led Los Angeles to a 53 percent (52-of-99) shooting performance.
"This is the playoffs and we don't want to get behind," Rice said. "You could end up losing and we don't want to do that. We don't want to end our season early. We want to go all the way until the end and try to bring the ring back to LA."
Chris Webber scored 20 of his playoff career-high 28 points in the first half, boiling over in frustration after receiving his fifth foul late in the third quarter. He was slapped with a technical and sat on the bench for most of the final period, fouling out with just under seven minutes to play as the Kings lost their seventh straight playoff series opener dating to 1991.
"Webber was a load in the first half and fortunately for us, he got in foul trouble," Jackson said.
Game Two is Thursday in Los Angeles.
"I don't know what we'll try to do with Shaq," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "Double-teaming, triple-teaming or make someone else beat you. I told the team we'll be better on Thursday. We let them kill us on the boards."
Webber shrugged off Robert Horry while trying to post up in the lane with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter and was called for an offensive foul. He immediately got in the official's face and was called for a technical, which Rice converted with a free throw to give the Lakers an 87-76 lead.
"I'm sure after a night to sleep on it, I'll be able to find some positive aspects from this game," Webber said. "I think if you don't call a charge on Shaq, how can you call a charge on me? I can't make any apologies for playing physical. Horry flops a lot, so you have to be ready for that."
"Don't ask me about the officiating," Adelman said. "Our star player is sitting on the bench with three offensive fouls.
That's the second time that's happened against this team."
O'Neal and Bryant each had nine points and Rice added seven as Los Angeles opened a 34-28 lead after one period. But the Kings came roaring back early in the second quarter and went ahead, 41-40, with 7:59 left in the half on Divac's 16-footer.
But O'Neal answered with a thunderous slam, sparking a 16-4 run that he capped with a steal and pass to Derek Fisher, who buried a 17-footer to give the Lakers a 56-45 lead with 4:52 remaining in the half.
Jason Williams hit a 22-foot jumper to pull Sacramento within 61-54 less than a minute before intermission, but Rice sank a 20-footer and Bryant answered Divac's free throw with a layup as Los Angeles took a 65-55 advantage into the break.
Williams scored 20 points, Tony Delk had 17 off the bench and Nick Anderson added 11 for the Kings, who shot 43.5 percent (37-of-85) but lost the battle on the boards, 54-37. Sacramento was outscored in the paint, 66-36.
O'Neal put on a clinic in the third period, hitting 7-of-9 shots. stretch. He began with an eight-footer and added a six-foot hook and a three-point play to give the Lakers a 78-66 lead with 8:05 left.
O'Neal followed with a layup, a 15-footer, two free throws, a six-foot hook and a five-foot jumper to make it 91-76 with 34 seconds to go in the third period.
"I really think they went to Shaq a lot more than they did during the regular season," Adelman said. "It was pretty apparent they were going to him."
He made a layup to open a 105-89 bulge with 7:01 to play before the Kings staged a comeback. Anderson drilled a 3-pointer, Delk a six-footer and Divac a driving layup and three free throws to cut the deficit to 105-99 with 4:33 to go.
But O'Neal, Bryant and Rice again had more than enough to hold off the Kings.
"As an opposing center, it's pretty hard to stop Shaq," Sacramento's Scot Pollard said. "He's a big guy, he's a strong guy and he's skilled. Our goal is to just refocus and make sure we try and slow them down next game."