L.A. Lakers 101, New Jersey 92
Victory is the Bottom Line for Lakers
LOS ANGELES, March 5 (Ticker) -- After squandering a double-digit lead with poor free-throw shooting, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New Jersey Nets from the line.
Shaquille O'Neal had 40 points and 12 rebounds and Derek Fisher scored 16 points off the bench as the Lakers found their touch from the foul line in the closing minutes for a 101-92 victory over the Nets.
The Lakers led by as many as 18 in the third quarter and had a 68-53 cushion with 3:47 left in the period before the Nets went on a 24-7 surge. Lucious Harris scored 12 of his 17 points during the burst and gave New Jersey its first lead since the second quarter, 77-75, on a pair of throws with 6:33 to play.
"We got on a streak where we started to make shots," said Nets coach Byron Scott, a former Lakers star. "Unfortunately we couldn't make enough of them. We never really got into a flow and in the fourth quarter we went cold again."
"It was a game of momentum," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "There certainly was a swing in the second half. But we were able to start converting our free throws and salt the game away."
Los Angeles was 3-of-8 from the line during the Nets' rally and 8-of-23 through 3½ quarters, but started sinking its free throws down the stretch.
After O'Neal followed a Devean George three-pointer for an 83-79 lead, the Lakers made 17-of-20 free throws in the final 4:33 to pull away for their third straight victory.
O'Neal made six of his last 10 free throws and finished 8-of-20 from the line.
"I should have had 50 (points)," he said. "I missed to many free throws. Even though I missed a lot of them, all of them were right there. They were just popping out."
"Shaq made free throws in the fourth quarter," Scott said. "I said, 'I'm going to send him to the line, see if he could make them' and he could make them and he was making them, looking at me and winking."
Fisher made 6-of-8 free throws and Robert Horry, who had 12 points and 14 rebounds, sank 5-of-6 attempts from the charity stripe.
Los Angeles moved into a tie with the Sacramento Kings for the best record in the league despite playing without All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, who served the second of his two-game suspension for Friday's fight with Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller.
Jason Kidd nearly had a triple-double with 19 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for New Jersey, which has lost six straight meetings with Los Angeles.
"(The Lakers are) the best in the league," Kidd said. "Even though they have one guy who's pretty good with Kobe being out, they tend to play a little bit better when everybody moves the ball. We gave them a run, we played hard for 48 minutes, we just couldn't knock down shots when we had the opportunity."
Rookie Richard Jefferson scored 15 points and Aaron Williams added 15 and eight rebounds. Keith Van Horn collected 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Nets, who shot just 35 percent (32-of-91) and lost for the third time in four games.
New Jersey, which has the best record in the Eastern Conference, was without forward Kenyon Martin, who served an automatic one-game suspension after committing his sixth flagrant foul of the season against Chicago on Sunday.
The Nets had a 26-23 edge with nine minutes left in the second quarter before the Lakers went on a 22-11 run to take a 45-37 lead. O'Neal scored 16 points during the burst and Los Angeles went into halftime with a 49-41 advantage.
Lindsey Hunter and Rick Fox each nailed a three-pointer as the Lakers scored 17 of the first 24 points in the third quarter. O'Neal gave Los Angeles its largest lead, 88-66 on a driving layup with 5:15 remaining.