Regular Season Series (Game 4 of 4)

Series starts 12/25

Game 1: Thursday, December 25th
Game 2: Wednesday, February 11th
Game 3: Wednesday, March 3rd
Game 4: Thursday, April 1st

Rockets 85


Lakers 93

(52-23, 32-5 home)

    7:30 PM ET, April 1, 2004

    STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA

    1 2 3 4 T
    HOU 23 17 26 1985
    LAL 18 29 20 2693

    Top Performers

    Hou: C. Mobley 26 Pts, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

    LAL: K. Malone 20 Pts, 14 Reb, 6 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

    Lakers get 10th straight win

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Just a couple weeks ago, the Los Angeles Lakers hoped to move up to second or third in the Western Conference standings.

    Now, thanks to 10 straight wins to equal a season high, they're playing for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

    Kobe Bryant scored 26 points; Karl Malone had 20 points, 14 rebounds and six assists; and Shaquille O'Neal thoroughly outplayed Yao Ming as the Lakers beat the Houston Rockets 93-85 Thursday night to move into a tie for the conference lead with slumping Sacramento.

    "We're proud of ourselves. We've been able to climb a huge hill," Bryant said. "Things are looking pretty good for us. We have to be happy with where we are.

    "We're having a blast out there. I don't know what comes first -- having a blast or winning."

    The Lakers (52-23) have been winning, going an NBA-best 21-4 since the All-Star break. They play four of their remaining seven games at home.

    The Kings, beaten by Dallas 127-117 for their seventh loss in 11 games, play four of their last seven on the road. The teams meet in Sacramento on April 11.

    Indiana (55-20) leads the Eastern Conference, where no other team has won more than 48 games.

    O'Neal had 18 points and eight rebounds and Gary Payton added 12 points and a season-high 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who shot just 37.7 percent but outrebounded the Rockets 58-35.

    Bryant also had seven rebounds, four assists and five steals.

    "Our rebounding was good tonight and Shaq did a great job on Yao Ming," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We're playing with great enthusiasm -- that helps a lot."

    Cuttino Mobley scored 26 points, Steve Francis had 17 points and eight assists, and Jim Jackson added 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets (42-32), who lost for the sixth time in nine games.

    Yao was held to six points and eight rebounds, shooting 3-of-15.

    "I just kind of stayed with him, put a body on him," O'Neal said. "He just missed some shots. I tried to keep him out of the middle of the floor and shoot jumpers."

    The Rockets won two of their previous three games against the Lakers this season, with Yao outscoring O'Neal 80-74 and outrebounding him 27-26.

    It was a different story in this game.

    "He put a lot of pressure on me at the beginning of the game," Yao said of O'Neal through an interpreter. "He didn't give me a lot of space to adjust my shot, so I think he had a big effect. But in the latter part of the game, he came off me and I just couldn't put the ball in the hole. You're always going to have bad games, and I just didn't play well tonight."

    The Lakers won by outscoring the Rockets 26-19 in the fourth quarter.

    "We just executed down the stretch, made some stops, and did what we needed to do," Malone said.

    O'Neal muscled through Yao for a dunk to give the Lakers a 74-69 lead, and baskets by Malone and Payton gave the Lakers a seven-point advantage.

    Pressured by O'Neal, Yao missed the rim on a shot from close range. Payton made two free throws and Bryant scored to give the Lakers an 82-71 lead with 4:50 left. The Rockets weren't closer than six points after that.

    Mobley scored five points to cap a 15-2 run starting the third quarter, giving Houston a 55-49 lead. The Rockets led 59-56 when Bryant scored six points during an 8-0 spurt that put Los Angeles ahead by five. The Lakers led 67-66 entering the final period.

    The Lakers outscored the Rockets 27-15 to finish the second period for a 47-40 halftime lead. Bryant scored nine points and Devean George made two 3-pointers during the spurt.

    Mobley burned Bryant consistently in the first quarter, shooting 7-of-8 for 15 points as the Rockets took a 23-18 lead despite committing eight fouls to one for the Lakers. Yao, Francis and Maurice Taylor had two fouls each in the first 9{ minutes.

    Game notes

    O'Neal and Yao had one rebound each in the first half. ... Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy went after official Derrick Stafford as the teams left the court at halftime. He was restrained by trainer Keith Jones. ... The Lakers go for their 11th straight win Friday night in Seattle. They also won 10 in a row Nov. 19-Dec. 9. ... Phil Jackson said Yao is as good as anyone offensively against O'Neal since Hakeem Olajuwon was in his prime with the Rockets. But, Jackson added, Yao is overmatched by O'Neal on the defensive end. ... Francis had three points, three assists and three fouls in the first half along with a technical foul. ... Malone got two steals early in the third quarter to move into ninth place on the NBA's career list. He entered with 2,075 steals, tying him with Mookie Blaylock. ... Bryant left the game for the only time with 9:06 remaining, and returned less than three minutes later.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 85 93
    FGM-FGA 33-81 (.407) 29-77 (.377)
    3PM-3PA 6-14 (.429) 5-9 (.556)
    FTM-FTA 13-16 (.813) 30-42 (.714)
    Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 5-35 18-58
    Assists 19 17
    Turnovers 17 21
    Steals 11 15
    Blocks 6 3
    Fast Break Points 4 2
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 27 (1/0) 15 (1/0)

    Top Performers

    Los Angeles
    Cuttino Mobley Mobley
    Points: 26
    Reb: 3
    Ast: 1
    Stl: 2
    Blk: 1
    Karl Malone Malone
    Points: 20
    Reb: 14
    Ast: 6
    Stl: 2
    Blk: 1