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Bryant Is Expected to Play On

February 18, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers have won three of 13 games without Shaquille O'Neal and now could face one of their toughest stretches without him, beginning tonight against the Houston Rockets.

O'Neal, whose sore left knee makes him physically vulnerable, said he probably would not play against the Rockets and rookie center Yao Ming.

Laker guard Kobe Bryant, on a knee wracked by tendinitis and an ankle he rolled Sunday against the New York Knicks, likely will play tonight and therefore get his share of Steve Francis, who is averaging 23.2 points a game, 35.5 against the Lakers.

"Shaq at 5% is better than every center in the league anyway," Bryant said.

"But, it's his call.... He knows his body better than anybody else does."


The Rockets will believe O'Neal isn't playing when they see him show up on the bench in one of those plaid jammy outfits.

"He won't be hurting on Tuesday," Francis told the Houston Chronicle. "He knows the magnitude of this game, especially since we won the second game we played against each other. We don't want to get a guy like that mad, but we know he'll be ready."


Derek Fisher's best pro season has grown out of his early shooting woes, and since then has been obscured by the Lakers' losing and O'Neal's comings and goings and Bryant's end-to-end brilliance and the crisis/story of the day.

The Lakers lost games and the fault became his, and Rick Fox's, and Robert Horry's. The Lakers won, and Bryant became a most-valuable-player candidate. It's part of the deal, comes with the championships.

Fisher scored 21 points Sunday night, when he made 10 of 17 shots and had nothing at all to do with the defense of Allan Houston.

He has made 45% of his shots and 37.6% of his three-point tries, the former a result of a new mid- and close-range game. His shooting percentage is the best of his career, by far.



vs. Houston, 7:30, FSN, TNT

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- KLAC-AM (570), KWKW-AM (1330), KIRN (670).

Records -- Lakers 26-25, Rockets 27-24.

Record vs. Rockets -- 0-2.

Update -- In two victories against the Lakers, Francis has scored 27 and 44 points, so he could be a greater defensive issue than Yao, even if O'Neal sits out. The Rockets have not played since Friday night's 94-82 home loss to the dreadful Miami Heat. Houston has lost four of its last five games.

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