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Lakers trail West-leading Kings by half-game

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- For the Lakers and Kings, this was not
merely 1/82nd of the schedule. This was a big one, about as big as
games get during the regular season, and nobody was claiming
otherwise.

"I do believe in statement games," said Kobe Bryant, who
scored eight of his team's final 10 points to lead Los Angeles to a
97-96 victory Sunday over the league's toughest home team.

"They have been playing extremely well at Arco, and for us to
come in and win the game -- especially this type of game, because we
really didn't play good basketball -- I think it does send a little
message," Bryant said.

Bryant finished with 29 points and carried his team on offense
down the stretch after Shaquille O'Neal fouled out, helping the
Lakers become just the fourth team to win on the Kings' court this
season.

Sacramento missed a chance to open a 2-game lead over the
Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks in the Western Conference. The Kings
got the final shot, but Chris Webber missed a turnaround 10-footer
from the right corner while being closely guarded by Robert Horry.

"It was an exciting game, I think the game really lived up to
its hype," Bryant said.

Los Angeles is just a half-game behind Sacramento in the
standings with 14 games remaining and holds a 2-1 lead in the
season series. The teams meet again on the final night of the
regular season.

"If we wind up having homecourt advantage, that's great. If we
don't, that's fine too," Bryant said. "When the playoffs start,
the title has to come through L.A. I don't care what your record
is."

O'Neal had 21 points, shooting 8-for-9 from the field, and Derek
Fisher added 16 for the Lakers, who won despite being outrebounded
48-36.

Webber scored 24, Doug Christie added 18, Hedo Turkoglu 17 and
Mike Bibby 14 for the Kings, who were without Peja Stojakovic (sore
hamstring). Vlade Divac had 11 points and 17 rebounds.

"I'll take the responsibility," Webber said. "I'll remember
this. It hurts a lot because I missed a big shot."

O'Neal fouled out with 1:19 left trying to block a putback by
Divac, who made the second of two free throws to tie it at 93.

Bryant then blew past Christie and between two other defenders
for a reverse layup, and Christie could only make one of two from
the line with 52 seconds left.

Bryant gave the Lakers a three-point lead by going to his right
and hitting a fadeaway 15-footer over Christie with 36 seconds
left, making it 97-94 before Webber answered with a jump hook with
29 seconds remaining.

The Kings then double-teamed Bryant near midcourt with the shot
clock running down, and Divac blocked a jumper by Rick Fox to force
a 24-second violation.

That gave Sacramento 5.2 seconds to go for the win, but Webber's
high-arcing shot was no good.

"It was a shock to us that they ran that last play on that side
of the court," Horry said. "I just stood there and made sure he
didn't go around me."

Bobby Jackson and Bibby hit consecutive 3-pointers to open the
fourth quarter and give the Kings an 80-73 lead, but O'Neal scored
twice and Devean George scored seven points in a 14-2 run that put
Los Angeles ahead 87-82.

Webber hit a pair of foul shots, tipped in his own miss and hit
Jackson with a perfect bounce pass for a backdoor layup to pull the
Kings to 91-90 with 2:49 left, and the game was tight the rest of
the way.

"We just know that being three down in the loss column would
not be a good scenario for us. It's much better to be down by
one," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose team showed the poise
befitting the two-time defending champions that they are.

"They have two championships. This was nothing to them,"
Webber said.

Or, as Bryant put it: "We don't shake."

Neither team was able to open a double-digit lead at any time,
although the Kings led by nine at one point and were ahead for a
majority of the first three quarters.

Webber did the bulk of his damage in the early going, scoring 14
in the first quarter -- including the first four of the game in his
first action of the season against the Lakers. Webber missed the
first two meetings because of a sprained ankle.

Slava Medvedenko kept the Lakers close in the second quarter,
scoring eight points in the period as O'Neal was hampered by foul
trouble. O'Neal picked up his third foul with 7:01 remaining,
although Jackson did not take him out for another two minutes.

Game notes
O'Neal also had seven rebounds and six assists. He did not
speak to the media after the game. ... The Lakers have won four of
five and 11 of 14 at Arco Arena. ... Sacramento dropped to 26-1
when leading after the first quarter at home. ... Kings coach Rick
Adelman used only seven players -- the five starters plus Jackson
and Scot Pollard.