Shaquille O'Neal collected 31 points and 14 rebounds as the Lakers took a commanding 2-0 lead in its Western Conference first-round series after a 103-96 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, who again demonstrated the lack of composure that has become their trademark.
The defending champions never trailed and opened up an 18-8 lead on a 3-pointer by Kobe Bryant and a jumper by Derek Fisher. A three-point play by Fisher opened up a 48-34 lead with just over three minutes left in the first half and the outcome was never really in question.
"That game had many faces out there tonight," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "We shot the ball well in the first half because of the opportunities that they gave us."
Portland's propensity for mental miscues can never be questioned and the Trail Blazers made plenty of stupid plays to help Los Angeles' cause. One instance was by Ruben Patterson, who was too aggressive in boxing out Fisher with time running out in the half and was whistled for a foul. Fisher made two foul shots for a 51-37 cushion.
Scottie Pippen and Bryant got tangled up for a loose ball midway through the third quarter, which caused players from both teams to converge. That merely served to fire up the Lakers as Bryant and O'Neal did all the scoring in a 9-2 spurt for a 67-50 lead with 4:12 to go.
"I like a physical game," O'Neal said. "When they play physical with me, they're just playing into my hands. My guys are looking for me down low and I just did what I do."
Bryant capped the run with a technical foul shot after Dale Davis was ejected. Davis fouled O'Neal and protested by kicking the ball into the stands for his second technical. All that was left was a technical foul by volatile Portland forward Rasheed Wallace, who picked up the Blazers' fourth with 2:44 remaining.
"We lost a little composure in there tonight," Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. "I'm a little disappointed that we did it because for the most part, we have been pretty good all year long and the first game. So it is something that needs to be addressed and it was addressed."
Wallace had a shot rejected by Robert Horry with 8:36 remaining in the fourth. That led to a fast break for Los Angeles with Bryant feeding O'Neal for a left-handed dunk and an 87-67 bulge.
The Blazers actually made a late charge and Pippen's 3-pointer capped a 19-4 run to cut the deficit to 98-92 with 1:43 remaining. Portland got the ball back and had a chance to get closer but Steve Kerr, considered to be one of the team's more cerebral players, inexplicably launched an off-balance 3-pointer that misfired.
The Lakers made 5-of-6 foul shots to close the game.
"When you're ahead like that, when you try and play not to lose, that's when you tighten up," Fisher said. "They made some shots that they had been missing all night."
Bryant finished with 19 points despite a horrific shooting night, making 5-of-21 attempts. Fisher netted 18 points and Rick Fox added 13.
But O'Neal was the dominant force as usual for Los Angeles. He made 12-of-20 shots as he helped Los Angeles hold a 52-38 edge in points in the paint.
O'Neal's power game was so overwhelming that Patterson was whistled for a flagrant foul on the 7-1 behemoth in the fourth quarter and tried to apologize. O'Neal brushed him off as Patterson and the Blazers protested.
"It's playoff time and nothing can break my composure or break my spirits," O'Neal said. "We should have beat this team by 20."
"That wasn't a flagrant foul," Patterson said. "How can you hurt that big old monster? I barely hit him."
Wallace poured in 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Portland, which has lost six straight playoff games to Los Angeles. Pippen fouled out with 20 and nine but the Trail Blazers shot just 29.5 percent (13-of-44) in the first half.
The Blazers' backcourt struggled as Damon Stoudamire and Bonzi Wells combined to make just 4-of-18 shots for 12 points. Portland was also hammered on the glass as Los Angeles held a comfortable 48-35 edge.
"We just can't hit our shots," Wells said. "They're tough. It's tough to dethrone a champion."
O'Neal made 7-of-9 foul shots as Los Angeles took advantage of 31 personal fouls by Portland to convert 30-of-36 attempts from the line. Fisher made 9-of-10 and Bryant was 8-of-9.