Lakers pull off split in home-and-home with Suns


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- For one of the few times this season, the Los
Angeles Lakers bore a close resemblance to their NBA championship
teams of the last three years.

And they did it for a full game.

Shaquille O'Neal had 36 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked
shots and the Lakers led nearly all the way in beating the Phoenix
Suns 109-97 Sunday night for only their fifth victory over a team
with a winning record.

Kobe Bryant had 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and
Rick Fox added 11 points and eight assists for Lakers (14-20), who
lost to the Suns 107-93 in Phoenix on Saturday night.

``They played like the Lakers tonight,'' Suns star Stephon
Marbury said.

``It felt great,'' Lakers forward Robert Horry said. ``We won
every quarter. That's something we haven't done this season.''

Bryant scored the Lakers' first nine points of the fourth
quarter before O'Neal's basket put Los Angeles ahead 88-77 with
8:18 remaining.

The Suns didn't get closer than seven points after that.

The Lakers shot 52.4 percent and outrebounded the Suns 53-37 in
winning for the third time in four games.

``It was a good win against a quality team -- a very good
defensive ballclub,'' Bryant said. ``This is a big month for us.
The challenge is right here for us. Everybody's just excited about
this opportunity we have right now -- to make history.''

O'Neal left without speaking to reporters, as he has done for
the past month following games, but he made a statement on the
court with perhaps his finest all-around game this season.

``They made shots but Shaq was just a monster tonight,'' Marbury

``He is getting in better and better shape as we go along and
tonight it also helped that other guys hit shots on the
perimeter,'' Lakers guard Brian Shaw said. ``When he is as dominant
as he was tonight, it's going to make it easier for everyone else,
especially when you have him and Kobe playing at the level they

O'Neal made 15-of-19 shots and was as active on defense over the
course of a full game as he's been all season.

Marbury led Phoenix (21-13) with 32 points and six assists.
Shawn Marion added 13 points and Joe Johnson scored 12 for the
Suns, who shot 43.2 percent in losing for only the third time in 14

``I'm sure they didn't want to lose back-to-back games to us,''
Phoenix coach Frank Johnson said. ``We needed to play our best game
to beat them. We didn't.''

The Lakers outscored the Suns 9-2 on Derek Fisher's first five
points of the game and two baskets by O'Neal for a 62-51 lead early
in the third quarter.

At that stage, Marion and Amare Stoudemire had four fouls and
four points each. They combined for 40 points in Saturday night's
convincing victory.

The Lakers led 77-68 entering the final period.

Baskets by Horry and O'Neal gave Los Angeles a 40-28 lead with
8:45 left in the second quarter. The Lakers made only three field
goals during the rest of the period -- all by O'Neal -- but led 51-45
at halftime.

Bryant made his first four shots -- all medium-range jumpers -- to
put the Lakers ahead for good in the game's first three minutes.

Bryant's three-point play with 58 seconds left in the first
quarter gave him 13 points and the Lakers a 26-19 lead. It was
29-24 entering the second period.

Game notes
The Suns activated seldom-used forward Alton Ford. He
replaces starting center Jake Tsakalidis, who underwent back
surgery Thursday and will be sidelined at least six weeks. ... The
Lakers made 5-of-17 shots from 3-point range. They were 2-of-21
from beyond the arc in Saturday night's game. ... The Lakers have
beaten the Suns eight straight times at home. ... Marion, who had
23 points Saturday night, scored only four points in the first
half, sitting out the final 6 minutes after picking up his third
foul. He scored seven of his points in the fourth quarter. ...
Stoudemire finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. ... Phoenix C
Jake Voskuhl played seven minutes and committed five fouls. ...
There were only four fast-break points scored in the game -- all by
the Lakers. ... Some have speculated the Lakers won't qualify for
the postseason next spring. After the game, Marbury disagreed.
``They're going to make the playoffs,'' Marbury said with a smile.