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Lakers win despite poor shooting, rebounding

4/18/2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The playoffs arrived and the Los Angeles
Lakers hardly looked like championship material.

But Shaquille O'Neal was in the right place to bail them out --
barely in time.

O'Neal's only basket of the second half, a dunk off an airball
by Kobe Bryant with 17.4 seconds remaining, provided the winning
points in the Lakers' 72-71 victory over the Houston Rockets on
Saturday night.

"That game was misery for us out there," Lakers coach Phil
Jackson said. "I don't know if it was their defense or our
shooting or a combination of both. We struggled, in the second
half, particularly."

With the Rockets leading by one point and the shot clock running
down, Bryant tried a 3-pointer despite having two defenders on him,
and missed everything.

But O'Neal snatched the ball out of the air and rammed it into
the basket while being fouled by Yao Ming, who committed his sixth
personal.

"I just wanted to get it up quick and go strong," O'Neal said.

O'Neal missed the free throw -- his 10th failure in 14 attempts
from the foul line -- and the Rockets got the rebound and called
timeout. Steve Francis drove around two defenders but ran into
O'Neal, forcing him to pass the ball to Jim Jackson in the corner.

Jackson's open 3-pointer hit the rim and bounced away as time
ran out.

"Great look. When I let it go, I thought it was in," he said.

O'Neal scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half and also had
17 rebounds. Bryant took just one shot in the first half and
finished with 16 points, five rebounds and six assists, shooting
4-for-19 from the field.

"It was an ugly game but we fought our way through it," O'Neal
said.

That's an understatement. The Lakers shot 25 percent in the
second half (10-of-40) and 32.9 percent overall, and were
outrebounded 51-41.

Game 2 will be played Monday night at Staples Center before the
best-of-seven series moves to Houston for the third and fourth
games.

Francis led the Rockets with 18 points, nine rebounds and five
assists. Jackson and Maurice Taylor added 11 points each; Yao had
10 points and 11 rebounds, and Cuttino Mobley also scored 10 for
Houston, which shot 38.2 percent and committed 22 turnovers.

"We can win games shooting 30 percent, we can win games with
Kobe taking one shot in the first half if you do things right,"
Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "It was definitely not a pretty
exhibition shooting-wise, but we defended."

Derek Fisher and Kareem Rush made 3-pointers -- the first points
of the game for both -- to give the Lakers a 58-55 lead, and Rush
made another 3-pointer to make it 63-59.

Jackson scored the game's next five points to put the Rockets on
top, but two free throws by Fisher and another pair by Bryant gave
the Lakers a 67-64 lead.

A free throw by Francis and a jumper by Taylor tied it at 69,
and after O'Neal missed two foul shots, Francis made a pair with
2:02 left to give the Rockets a two-point lead.

O'Neal's free throw with 1:30 left drew the Lakers within one,
and there was no more scoring until his decisive dunk.

"They made one more play than we did tonight," Rockets coach
Jeff Van Gundy said.

The Lakers entered with four players listed as questionable
because of injuries, and all played -- Karl Malone despite a
sprained right ankle, Fox with his dislocated right thumb taped;
Fisher (strained groin muscle), and Devean George (strained left
calf).

Malone played 38 minutes but had an off night, shooting 3-of-14
for seven points. He also had 11 rebounds.

Gary Payton hyperextended his lower back late in the first half
after scoring 11 points. He returned to play the second half, going
scoreless in 15{ minutes.

Fox, who missed the last three regular-season games, was back in
the starting lineup and went scoreless in 20 minutes.

The Rockets tied the game 42-all by outscoring Los Angeles 8-2
in the first eight minutes of the third quarter. The Lakers shot
1-for-13 to open the period, drawing groans from the hometown fans,
before Bryant made a 3-pointer to end the drought.

Taylor's three-point play with 2.4 seconds left in the quarter
gave Houston a 51-49 lead. The Rockets outscored the Lakers 17-9 in
the period.

The Lakers' playoff record for fewest points in a quarter is
eight.

Game notes
Phil Jackson's teams are 13-0 and Van Gundy's are 5-1 in
first-round playoff series. ... As is his custom during the
playoffs, Jackson wore one of his past championship rings. He chose
the 2000 ring -- the first of three won by the Lakers under his
watch. ... Jackson's 163 playoff wins and .731 postseason winning
percentage are tops in NBA history. He has coached nine
championship teams -- tied with former Boston coach Red Auerbach for
the most ever. ... Malone walked around the locker room before the
game wearing a T-shirt with the Snow White character `Grumpy"
emblazoned across the front. That matched his mood Friday, when he
told reporters: "You've got to shoot me in the head for me not to
play."