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Shaq Plays Mr. Clutch in Laker Win

Pro basketball: L.A. sends message with O'Neal's basket, free throw, blocked shot in final seconds of 90-89 victory over Sacramento.


SACRAMENTO — They sent the Kings a message, all right. Kobe Bryant makes the pass for the winning basket these days. Shaquille O'Neal makes it and tacks on the game-winning free throw.

They win, you lose. This is the new Lakers.

As if Phil Jackson drew it up in his dreams, that's what happened Sunday. Bryant found O'Neal under the basket, who ignored Jason Williams' arm tackle, made the tying layup with six seconds left, then knocked down the winning free throw as the Lakers beat the Kings, 90-89, in stormy Arco Arena.

Just to put a bow on it, O'Neal blocked Vlade Divac's last-second 20-footer. Any further questions about who the underdog in this matchup is, your majesties?

"We need to send them a message," said Jackson afterward. "They have a feeling like they can beat us, that they have our number.

"Things have gone well for them in fact in the past. We need to let them know that we're going to beat them, regardless of whether they finish eighth or whatever they're going to be in the playoffs. This is a good signal for them."

Signals were decidedly mixed up to the end, with the Kings leading, 88-87, and Sacramento's Darrick Martin at the line, shooting two free throws with 17 seconds left. The first was good. The second wasn't.

Bryant brought the ball up and ran a pick-and-roll off O'Neal at the top of the circle. Divac, guarding O'Neal, jumped out on Bryant. O'Neal rolled to the hoop.

Divac stayed with Bryant. This left no one with O'Neal.

Bryant saw him, stopped and whipped the ball to O'Neal. Williams, rushing over, put his arms around O'Neal, but it was like trying to stop a space shuttle launch.

O'Neal rolled the ball over the front rim. The referees ruled it continuation and counted the basket, as Sacramento Coach Rick Adelman, hoping it would be ruled late, writhed in agony on the sideline.

"It was one of those things," Adelman said. "Of course, I'm the other coach. I thought he didn't get it off in time. I thought he was gathering himself. I thought we fouled him while he was gathering himself. Obviously, I was wrong . . .

"I thought we did a good job but we didn't finish the game off. Vlade did a nice job, showing on Kobe, but he didn't release quick enough. Once Kobe flattened out, he [Divac] has to get back to Shaq. There was nothing we could do."

The Lakers, now winners of six in a row and 25 of 26, came into this one paying the reborn Kings the compliment of taking them seriously enough to send a message.

Once, they just beat them without thinking anything about it but these are the new Kings too, with a problem matchup (Webber vs. the smaller, lighter Laker power forwards), who beat them here by 12 in December and led them by 16 in the third quarter a couple of weeks ago in Staples Center before the Lakers rallied to win.

Webber went for 24 in that one, which was mild compared to what he began to do to them Sunday, when he had 22 by halftime . . . and 11 rebounds . . . and four assists . . . and two blocks.

Sacramento led by as many as 10 in the first half but the Lakers got out of it, trailing, 50-47, helped by Williams' imaginative shot selection.

Then the Lakers started grinding them down again. The game got tense and physical. Once the mild-mannered Divac wound up wrestling with the mild-mannered Robert Horry, a faceoff that was interrupted by O'Neal, who came up and shoved Divac away, resulting in a technical foul for each.

With 1:51 left and the Kings ahead, 88-85, Webber, now up to 28 points, drove around Horry, went up and crashed into Glen Rice. Webber caused the contact but the replay showed Rice jumping with his arms raised. Nevertheless, the referees called it a charge, fouling Webber out.

With 1:37 left, Bryant made a driving layup to cut it to 88-87. The Lakers got the ball back with a chance to go ahead but with :19 left, Bryant missed from 12 feet.

The Lakers, needing to foul, put Martin, who was in as part of the free-throw shooting team, at the line but he missed one of two, and the Kings were about to pay for it.

"They were planning on playing Hack-a-Shaq," said O'Neal afterward. "Kobe made an excellent pass. I caught it and being the type of player I am, I quicked it into the basket. . . .

"It [making the free throw] is a confidence-building thing. My teammates are coming to me and I knew I was going to make it."

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