O'Neal returned from a one-game suspension and scored a
season-high 37 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 111-106
overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Gary Payton added a season-high 30 points as the Lakers improved
to 2-1 on a seven-game road trip -- the club's longest since 1992.
O'Neal was back after serving a one-game NBA suspension for
profanely criticizing officials during a live TV interview
following a win at Toronto on Sunday.
But he said he isn't sorry for his R-rated comments. And he had
no qualms with these officials as he was able to foul out both of
Cleveland's 7-foot centers, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and DeSagana Diop,
and attempted 20 free throws.
"I said what I felt," said O'Neal, who wanted to score 50.
"You can never control me. I'm a 31-year-old juvenile delinquent.
No one can control me."
O'Neal finished 9-of-20 from the line, and the rest of the
Lakers weren't much better, making just 26-of-40 (62 percent).
But when it counted most, O'Neal and his teammates, who
attempted 38 free throws after halftime, stepped up and drilled
their foul shots.
Los Angeles scored its final 10 points on free throws, sinking
its final eight tries while outscoring the Cavs 19-14 in overtime.
LeBron James scored 32 points -- including three 3-pointers in OT
-- but shot an airball from 21 feet with a chance to win it at the
end of regulation.
"It was right on line," Cleveland's rookie star said. "It
just fell short."
Carlos Boozer had 25 points and 16 rebounds and Eric Williams
scored all 20 of his points after halftime for the Cavs, who
despite the loss are 7-3 since Jan. 17.
Leading by two, the Cavs decided to employ the "Hack a Shaq"
strategy and fouled O'Neal with 32.9 seconds remaining in
regulation. But L.A's big man dropped in two knuckleballs to tie it
Jeff McInnis missed a runner in the lane with 14 seconds left,
but Boozer tipped the ball back out to give the Cavs a final
James ran the clock down to about three seconds, but instead of
driving to the basket on Payton, he chose to try an off-balance
fadeaway jumper that barely grazed the net.
"I took a swipe at it but didn't get it, and he shot an
airball," Payton said. "I knew what was going down and I played
him hard. I figured I'd make him take the fadeaway but make him
think I might get a piece of it."
Cavs coach Paul Silas didn't second-guess his young star's
decision to try an outside shot.
"You've got the ball in your best player's hands," Silas said.
"I couldn't ask for more."
O'Neal scored underneath to open overtime, and after the Cavs
missed their first three shots -- all from the perimeter -- Payton's
jumper put the Lakers up by six. James tried to rally the Cavs with
his 3s, but the Lakers closed it out at the line.
O'Neal said he had no regrets about the suspension, and his only
complaint was his foul shooting.
"If I would have hit my shots, I would have had 50," he said.
Rookie Maurice Carter, playing in just his second game since
being signed as a free agent by the Lakers last week, made five
free throws in the final 53 seconds to ice it.
Coming off his lowest scoring game (12 points) in two months on
a day he failed to make the All-Star team, James scored eight
points in a span of 1:13 in the first quarter on a 17-foot
fadeaway, a reverse dunk, a drive in the lane and a 22-foot jumper.
In the second quarter, James followed up an alley-oop dunk by
stomping down the floor with his own version of O'Neal's "gorilla
walk". O'Neal didn't realize what James had impersonated him until
James came over after a timeout to tell him.
Stung by his All-Star omission, James said Tuesday he
wouldn't want to play if he was a late addition because another
player was injured. Cavs coach Paul Silas said he'll urge James to
take part if he's asked. "It's such an honor," Silas said. "You
can't take it personally if you don't make it." ... After
appearing in court in Eagle, Colo., on Tuesday, Lakers F Kobe
Bryant, out with a hand injury, returned to Los Angeles. Lakers
coach Phil Jackson said Bryant may rejoin the club Sunday in
Orlando. ... Payton was examined by team doctors after scraping his
left leg against a glass table in his hotel room. "I'm fine, it
was just one of those things," Payton said. ... Payton still needs
two steals to move past Clyde Drexler into fifth place on the