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Bryant handles scoring, Walker handles boards

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The winning has come easy for the Los Angeles
Lakers lately -- no surprise considering they've been playing mostly
losing teams at home.

That will change this week, and the three-time defending NBA
champions believe they're up to the challenge.

"We've got two tough games coming up. Hopefully we can come
back here one game under .500,'' Shaquille O'Neal said after the
Lakers beat the outmanned Miami Heat 106-81 on Sunday night.

Kobe Bryant scored 36 points, and Samaki Walker had a
season-high 16 rebounds as the Lakers took command in the third
quarter.

O'Neal added 15 points, Rick Fox scored 12 and rookie Kareem
Rush had a career-high 11 for the Lakers, who shot 51.3 percent and
outscored the Heat 56-31 after halftime.

The win extended the Lakers' longest winning streak of the
season to four games and avenged a 97-85 loss at Miami on Nov. 26.

The Lakers (17-20) have won six of seven to move within three
games of .500 -- the closest they've been since Nov. 15.

Their next two games are at New Orleans (20-19) on Wednesday
night and at Houston (20-15) two nights later.

"We just have to remember how to win on the road,'' Bryant
said. "It comes down to poise and execution.''

The Lakers have beaten only five teams -- Portland, Dallas, Utah,
Orlando and Phoenix -- with winning records. And they've got a
miserable 4-14 road record.

"We have to play with a different presence,'' Lakers coach Phil
Jackson said. "We wouldn't be happy with a loss on this trip.''

Jackson acknowledged that the Lakers have shot much better
recently, but added: "That's not going to win on the road as much
as defense is. The defense is not as strong as it should be.''

It wasn't very good at all in the second quarter against Miami,
but as Bryant said: "In the second half, we just tightened up the
screws defensively.''

The Heat (12-25) shot 52.8 percent in the first half and 30.8
percent after halftime in losing their sixth game in a row -- a
season high.

Leading scorer Eddie Jones missed his fifth game because of a
sprained right ankle.

"Nobody likes to lose,'' said Miami coach Pat Riley, who
coached the Lakers to four NBA championships in the 1980s. "We're
going through a real hard period right now, our best players are
hurt.

"I hope getting back to Miami, we can regroup, re-energize.''

The Lakers put the game away by outscoring the Heat 30-11 in the
third quarter for an 80-61 lead. Los Angeles shot 11-of-17 and
Miami 5-of-19 in the period.

The Lakers scored 13 straight points at one stage late in the
third quarter to go ahead by 21 points. Miami wasn't closer than 15
points after that.

"Everybody's still got faith,'' said rookie Caron Butler, who
led the Heat with 21 points and seven rebounds. "We're just going
to continue to bring 100 percent effort, listen to Coach.''

Bryant, who played 37 minutes and came out for good with 8:07
remaining, didn't make a 3-pointer for the second straight game
after making an NBA-record 12 in a 119-98 victory over Seattle.

He shot 12-of-21, made 12-of-13 free throws and also had three
rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Rookie Rasual Butler added 16 points; Mike James scored 14, and
Vladimir Stepania had 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Heat.

Caron Butler scored eight points and James five during a 13-4
run that put the Heat ahead 37-35.

It was 50-all at halftime. The Heat shot 12-of-18 in the second
period including 5-of-5 by Caron Butler, who scored 14 points, and
5-of-6 by James, who scored 11.

Bryant shot 8-of-10 and scored 22 points in the first half, but
O'Neal was just 2-of-9 and had only six points. He sat out the last
2:45 with three fouls.

Game notes
The Lakers' last six wins have come by 12 or more points,
but only one -- a 109-97 victory over Phoenix -- was over a team with
a winning record. ... O'Neal, who missed the season's first 12
games recovering from surgery on his right big toe, said he's
probably about 25 percent away from being at 100 percent
physically. He said he believes he'll be there midway through the
second half of the season. ... Each of Miami's last six losses have
been by 14 or more points. Travis Best, who normally starts in the
backcourt with Jones, has missed all six because of a sprained
right ankle that landed him on the injured list. ... Jones said
he's uncertain when he'll return to action. "I definitely thought
I'd be able to play on the (five-game) trip,'' he said. "It hasn't
happened.''

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