Thursday, January 30, 2003

Lakers warm up for Sacramento showdown

By Bob Baum
The Associated Press

PHOENIX - The Los Angeles Lakers earned a rare road victory over one of the many teams above them in the Western Conference standings. Now it's on to Sacramento, where a victory might finally signal that long-awaited Lakers' turnaround.

Kobe Bryant scored 14 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter, including an emphatic, victory-clinching dunk as Los Angeles snapped the Phoenix Suns' 11-game home winning streak with a 99-90 victory Wednesday night.

Shaquille O'Neal added 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists as the Lakers, coming off home losses to Golden State and New Jersey, beat a Pacific Division foe away from the Staples Center for the first time this season.

The Lakers play at Sacramento on Friday night.

"This is a tough road trip," Bryant said. "We wanted to get off on the right foot."

Robert Horry matched his season high with 16 points in Los Angeles' sixth road victory in 21 tries.

For one of the few times this season, the Lakers jumped on an opponent early and never lost control.

"Hopefully this is the start of something," O'Neal said. "Our problem this year is we've been very inconsistent. ... We're starting to get it back. We've just got to keep it going."

Stephon Marbury had 33 points and 10 assists and fellow All-Star Shawn Marion had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix.

The Lakers were well-rested after four days off, while the Suns were just off a 1-4 trip to the East. The loss was just Phoenix's fourth at home this season.

In what has become an all-too-familiar pattern, the Suns fell behind early. They trailed by as many as 17 in the first half and 16 in the third quarter.

"Again, we spotted them 10 points," Marbury said. "We played from behind, and against a team like that you definitely can't play from behind. Their main two weapons are very lethal, and when the other guys are playing well, they're weapons, too."

Coach Frank Johnson said the Suns are struggling in every phase.

"Our defense, our offense, making shots, just having any type of continuity," he said. "Not being ready, I certainly have to take the blame for that, because this is going on far too often, just not having energy early."

Phoenix mounted a comeback after O'Neal was called for four fouls in the third quarter. He went to the bench with 3:02 to play in the period and Los Angeles leading 70-57.

Marbury scored six points in a 10-2 run and cut the Lakers' lead to 72-67 on his two free throws with 10:34 to play. But O'Neal returned and his dunk boosted the lead back to 74-67 with 9:27 remaining. His tip-in on Bryant's miss put the Lakers up 76-67 with 8:15 to go.

Marbury's second consecutive 3-pointer cut the lead to 84-79 with 4:22 to play. Bryant followed with a 21-footer, O'Neal scored inside and Phoenix never got closer than eight again.

"Marbury got going and was unstoppable for a period of time," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Fortunately, Kobe had a couple of good answers back."

Bryant sealed the victory with a one-handed slam - punctuated by a glare to the Phoenix bench - that made it 92-82 with 1:16 to play. He took the ball to the basket even though O'Neal was open for a pass.

"I wanted to take that one down hard," Bryant said. "I told the big fella I owe him one."

Notes: Suns rookie Amare Stoudemire missed his first six shots and finished 1-for-12 from the field. ... The only other "road" game the Lakers have won against a Pacific Division foe was against the Clippers, and both of those teams play in the Staples Center. ... The Suns' other three home losses were by one point, two points and in overtime. ... Bryant's 40 were the most any player has scored against Phoenix this season.

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