Michael Olowokandi, the Clippers' No. 1 draft choice, and Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers' all-star center, matched up evenly Saturday night in the second of consecutive exhibition games between the teams.
After returning from Italy and signing with the Clippers on Friday, Olowokandi sat on the bench but was not in uniform. O'Neal had the night off to rest a sore knee.
Their absence, however, most likely did not affect the outcome of the game as the Lakers defeated the Clippers, 91-77, before an announced crowd of 16,021 at the Sports Arena.
Although the Clippers lost to the Lakers by double digits for the second night in the row, their effort was much stronger than what they gave in losing by 31 points at the Great Western Forum on Friday.
"Our guys responded in a very positive way," said Clipper Coach Chris Ford, who starts the regular season Friday against Phoenix. "I was happy to see our execution both offensively and defensively."
Olowokandi, a 7-foot-1 center from Pacific who signed with Kinder Bologna of the Italian League two days before NBA players and owners agreed to a labor settlement Jan. 7, met Ford and many of his new teammates for the first time minutes before Saturday morning's shootaround.
He will go through his first full practices today and said he's looking forward to playing against dominant big men like O'Neal.
"It will be a learning experience, but I hope I don't learn too much," said Olowokandi, who played three weeks in Italy before being granted an early release from his one-year contract with Kinder Bologna. "Those guys are veterans and whatever happens has to be a positive. I know I will go out there and do the best that I can. . . . I'm still learning."
Olowokandi said that his Italy experience became tougher once Kinder Bologna knew that he would not finish the season with the team.
"It was kind of a bittersweet situation," Olowokandi said. "I got there on a Wednesday and I was thinking that I would be there for a long term period. Then the lockout is over. . . . It was hard dealing with the fact that they were not going to play me a lot."
The Clippers, who will conduct a scrimmage open to the public Tuesday night at the Sports Arena, have to feel better about themselves than they did after Friday's loss. Not only did they get a better game from key players like Rodney Rogers, who bounced back with 18 points and nine rebounds, but Maurice Taylor has been cleared by team doctors to return to practice after missing the last few days to rest a thigh injury.
"The good thing is that [consecutive losses to the Lakers] are only exhibition games," Taylor said. "We're going to be a much better team this year. We played pretty good [Saturday] and now both [Olowokandi] and I will be playing."
Laker Coach Del Harris was happy with the performances of Elden Campbell, who had 13 points starting in place of O'Neal, and reserve big men Sean Rooks and Travis Knight, who combined for 12 points and 16 rebounds.
"I think that we benefited from Shaq being out," said Harris, whose team was led by Kobe Bryant's 16 points off the bench.
Laker center Shaquille O'Neal, suffering from tendinitis in his left knee after Friday night's game, was a late scratch and did not dress Saturday. O'Neal, who played 22 minutes Friday, was too sore to practice Saturday morning, and Laker Coach Del Harris wanted to make sure O'Neal would be fit to participate in this morning's workout. "We'd rather have him for the practice than for the game," Harris said. . . . Clipper center Stojko Vrankovic (lower back strain) dressed but did not play, and forward Maurice Taylor (right thigh) did not play. . . . Clipper veteran free agent point guard Scott Brooks did not play because of a strained right knee. Laker rookie Sam Jacobson played the final three minutes after sitting out Friday's game to rest a hip injury.
Staff writer Tim Kawakami contributed to this story.