A.C. Green played his 1,041st consecutive game and produced his second consecutive wrestling-match victory over Karl Malone on Wednesday.
Big, blue-collar numbers, either way you look at it.
One feat tied a professional basketball record, the other helped propel the Lakers to a bruising 90-82 victory over the Utah Jazz before a sellout of 18,997 at Staples Center.
So, while Shaquille O'Neal extended his recent run of bullish production, scoring 39 points and grabbing 18 rebounds, it was Green, 36, who duplicated his opening-night defense on Malone and was Wednesday's inspiration and low-block revelation.
Green played 34 minutes, and made his only field-goal attempt. But along the way, he grabbed 10 rebounds and nudged Malone into a nine-for-23 shooting night and four turnovers.
Along the way, Green tied the pro basketball record of Ron Boone, who started his streak in the ABA. Green already held the NBA record.
"He almost played a perfect game for us," Coach Phil Jackson said of Green. "Almost a no-mistake ballgame for us.
"His tenacity was amazing. . . . This was quite a hallmark game for him."
Ron Harper, 35, shook his head in respect for Green's double-accomplishment--the performance against Malone and the milestone streak.
"Hey, let me tell you, I can't even think of seeing all those games, let alone playing in all of them," Harper said. "I've got to take my hat off to him to play in all of those ballgames."
Malone made his first two shots, then never seemed to get to a comfortable place on the floor or find open room to take his jump shot.
In the teams' first matchup, Green held Malone to four-of-10 shooting and 14 points, helping the Lakers to a regular-season opening victory.
"That's just we need--that kind of playing against Karl Malone," Harper said. "Karl Malone had it tough, he didn't give Karl Malone any easy shots.
"That's the position they think they have on us, and they didn't have it tonight."
O'Neal, meanwhile, stood at his locker with a bloodshot left eye but a smile on his face.
"Felt like somebody put Super-Glue in there," O'Neal said. "I couldn't open it. But I'm fine. I can see."
For a little bit, O'Neal had to keep going with one eye shut--the product of Greg Ostertag's raking right hand on a flagrant foul in the third quarter.
But on he went, dominating Ostertag, Olden Polynice and Malone.
O'Neal made 11 of his 20 free-throw tries, and said he thinks he has his rhythm back at the line.
"A little more comfortable," he said. "I'm not missing so bad. Three or four almost went in, then out."
Before the game, O'Neal, who is averaging 37.4 points and 16 rebounds over the Lakers' last five games, acknowledged the reality: With Kobe Bryant out, he is the Lakers' bedrock.
"How much longer's Kobe out?" O'Neal asked, before grimacing when he was told Bryant's return had been pushed back to Dec. 8 or later.
Though Utah's shooting was awful all game, the Jazz closed within three points late in the third quarter, 54-51, only to see the Lakers score in their final nine possessions of the period, to barrel to a 68-56 lead to start the fourth.
For the entire fourth quarter, it was the Lakers holding off Utah, and Green holding off Malone, literally.
On one critical Utah possession, Green fought off John Stockton's screen, cut in front of Malone, and tipped away the pass for a steal to preserve the Lakers' 80-72 lead with less than four minutes remaining.
The Utah offense in the first half was Malone shooting jumpers (making five, missing 12) and almost nothing else.
With everybody else misfiring and with Malone committing four first-half turnovers of his own, the Jazz got 11 points from Malone and only 18 from everybody else, turning in a turgid, 29-point first half.
Utah made only 12 out of its 39 shots in the first two quarters (30.8%), and Scott Padgett, Polynice and Bryon Russell were a combined 0 for 10.
The Lakers were not blazing, either, but O'Neal scored six quick points in the last four minutes of the second quarter to finish the first half with 17 points and eight rebounds.
Derek Fisher made four of his five shots and scored nine points, helping the Lakers to a 38-29 halftime lead.
* ROBERTS EXPELLED: The former Clipper center is kicked out of the league for drug violation. Page 6