February 7, 2003
NEW YORK -- Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal have the Lakers playing like champions again.
Bryant dazzled the Knicks with an array of drives, jumpers and dunks, and O'Neal overpowered inside as Los Angeles won 114-109 Thursday night to enter the All-Star break with a winning record for the first time this season.
"Kobe and Shaq have shown they're the top two dogs in the league," teammate Robert Horry said. "They're carrying us. You have to give the credit to those two guys."
Bryant matched his season high with 46 points and O'Neal added 33 as the Knicks had no answer for Los Angeles' dynamic duo. Bryant (40) and O'Neal (28) combined to outscore the Knicks in the first three quarters as the Lakers took a 97-67 lead.
The Lakers (24-23) then survived a fourth-quarter rally by the Knicks to end the first half of the season with their fifth straight win, including four on the road.
After a sluggish start left the Lakers 11-19 following a Christmas Day loss to Sacramento, the three-time defending champions have won 13 of 17 to close within 11/2 games of Houston for the final playoff spot in the West.
"We just have to keep doing it," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The championship rings don't mean anything unless we do it on the court. We found out the hard way that no one is really impressed by the championship banners."
Bryant and O'Neal are a different story. Bryant has scored at least 35 in five straight games, totaling 201 in that stretch. The spree coincides with Jackson telling Bryant to take over more of the scoring load.
"He's opened the offense up and allowed me to penetrate more," Bryant said. "I'm getting the ball in position where I can score quickly. I'm being more assertive."
The Knicks, who had won seven of their past 10, played the second half without leading scorer Allan Houston, who bruised his right wrist and is day to day.
Latrell Sprewell led New York with 24 points, Howard Eisley added 16 and Charlie Ward had 15 points and 11 assists.
BUCKS 97, SONICS 91: Ray Allen scored 14 of his 27 in the fourth quarter as host Milwaukee won its 11th game in the past 14 and sent Seattle into the All-Star break with a three-game losing streak.
Allen and Michael Redd, who had 19, scored the first 22 of the final quarter for the Bucks.
The Sonics kept it tight most of the game, one night after losing 114-74 at Boston. Gary Payton had 27 and Rashard Lewis 18 to lead Seattle.
SPURS 83, NUGGETS 74: Tim Duncan had 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and Tony Parker scored 19 of his 23 in the third quarter as visiting San Antonio got its fifth straight win.
San Antonio played without center David Robinson, out because of a sore knee, then lost third-leading scorer Stephen Jackson to a sprained right ankle five minutes into the game. Jackson's replacement, Emanuel Ginobili, went down with a sprained right ankle with 45 seconds left in the second.
It didn't matter against the lowly Nuggets, who were seeking just their second three-game winning streak of the season.
RILEY PROMPTS PROBE: An NBA investigation is under way to examine the actions of referees and their talking and laughing with Portland players in Wednesday's 101-87 Trail Blazers victory over the Heat in Miami.
No action is expected until after the All-Star break, an NBA official said.
After the game Heat coach Pat Riley said the referees' fraternization with Portland players was "unprofessional." He also noted that Portland attempted 32 free throws to the Heat's seven and said the officiating was "absolutely inconsistent."
It's not unusual for referees to talk and laugh with players, especially veterans such as Portland's. But Riley and Heat players think the referees crossed the line.