7:00 PM ET, February 27, 2003
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers have gone back to Shaq the last two games.
The emphasis on going to O'Neal makes sense considering he is moving around better and he's been matched up against smaller centers.
Listed at 7-foot-1 and 338 pounds, O'Neal was matched up against Clifford Robinson, who's 6-10 and 225.
Two nights earlier, when O'Neal faced 6-10, 260-pound Sean Rooks, he had 33 points and eight rebounds in the Lakers' 109-98 victory over the Clippers.
"I missed some chippies, it took me a while to get going,'' O'Neal said. "They were undersized and my teammates were looking for me. I started to make some shots.
"I'm starting to get it back. I think by March and April, I will get better. Right now we're playing pretty good, playing as a team, still winning games. Other teams should watch out.''
O'Neal shot 10-of-14 in scoring 25 of his team's 49 points in the second half.
"Well, you have to do what you have to do,'' Robinson said of his difficult assignment. "When you're put into position when you have to contain someone with such size and who can move as well as he does, it's tough. But at the same time, it's part of the game.''
O'Neal sat out three games recently because of soreness in his left knee and surgically repaired right big toe. This was the fourth game since he returned.
"He hasn't shown me the Shaq Shake yet, I know he's not 100 percent,'' Bryant said. "He's probably about 85 percent right now. I know he's pacing himself.''
The three-time defending champion Lakers (32-25) have won 13 of 15 games to move a season-high seven games over .500 and within one game of sixth-place Utah in the Western Conference.
The Pistons (37-21) have lost a season-high five straight and fell a half-game behind the Eastern Conference-leading New Jersey Nets.
The Lakers played without coach Phil Jackson, who missed his second game since having a kidney stone removed Monday. Assistant Jim Cleamons again served as acting head coach.
Jackson will not accompany the team to Seattle for a game Friday night. The Lakers don't play after that until Wednesday night against Indiana at Staples Center.
Bryant has scored 30 or more points in 15 straight games. He had reached 40 in nine straight and 35 in 13 in a row before getting 32 against the Clippers.
Corliss Williamson led the Pistons with 19 points. Richard Hamilton had 18 points and seven rebounds and Clifford Robinson added 15 points.
"We've got to find a way to stop the bleeding,'' Williamson said. "It's an 82-game season and you're going to have a few streaks where you're not playing well. We can't continue to lose like this.''
Ben Wallace, the NBA's leading rebounder with a 14.7 average, had 10 points and eight rebounds -- only the second time this season he's had more points than rebounds.
The Lakers outrebounded the Pistons 42-31.
Rookie Tayshaun Prince scored five points during a 7-2 run that trimmed the Lakers' lead to 81-78 early in the fourth quarter.
Mark Madsen then made his only two baskets of the game and O'Neal added three more to make it 91-81 with 2:54 remaining.
O'Neal had 17 of his team's 29 points and seven rebounds in the third quarter, which ended with the Lakers on top 75-69. He shot 7-of-10 in the period, making six straight at one stage.
Williamson scored eight points during a 14-5 run that gave the Pistons a 27-26 lead -- their first of the game. The Lakers responded with a 14-6 spurt for a 40-33 lead, and they were on top at halftime 46-41.
Detroit shot 1-for-10 to start the game as the Lakers took a 14-4 lead. The Pistons battled back, getting as close as one point before the opening period ended with Los Angeles on top 25-22.
The Lakers have beaten the Pistons nine straight times dating back to January 1997 and in 16 of the last 17 games between the teams. ... The Pistons were winless on a five-game trip to the West Coast last season and haven't won in three tries on this trip, having also lost at Seattle and Sacramento. The trip finishes this weekend with games at Golden State and Portland. ... Lakers F Samaki Walker returned after missing three games because of a sprained right ankle. He was held scoreless in 11 minutes, but had six rebounds and three assists. ... The Pistons are the NBA's top defensive team, holding opponents to under 86 points per game. They are 2-7 when allowing the opposition to score 100 or more, something that's happened only twice in their last 31 games. ... Averaging 99.1 points, the Lakers have scored 100 or more in 28 games -- including seven of their last 11.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||31-74 (.419)||36-74 (.486)|
|3PM-3PA||6-18 (.333)||6-9 (.667)|
|FTM-FTA||17-19 (.895)||17-20 (.850)|
|Fast Break Points||1||0|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||19 (1/0)||16 (1/0)|