Lakers 106, Clippers 103
LOS ANGELES (AP)—For 2 1/2 quarters Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers resembled the team that won 20 of its first 25 games before the injuries began.
Things went downhill after that, especially in the final minute, but the Lakers held on for a 106-103 victory as the Clippers missed two shots in the final seconds that would have tied the score.
The Clippers outscored the Lakers 9-1 after Shaquille O’Neal fouled out with 1:52 remaining.
“In the second half, we got a little lackadaisical,” said Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Coach Phil Jackson was more direct.
“We had a meltdown mentally in the second half all the way through,” he said.
“The encouraging thing was that we jumped on this team early,” Bryant said. “We got so many easy baskets, but we were just not as consistent (in the second half).”
The win was the seventh in nine games for the Lakers (45-23), who moved a season-high 22 games over .500 and within four games of the Sacramento Kings, whose 49-19 record is the best in the Western Conference.
But they’ve struggled against weak teams in their last three games, beating Chicago 88-81 and Orlando 113-110 in overtime before having to hold on against the Clippers.
“It’s definitely not a good trend,” Rick Fox said. “We got off to a 15-point halftime lead and played a different brand of basketball in the second half. A team that’s playoff-bound might take advantage of that.”
O’Neal had 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots and Malone added 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists in his fourth game since missing nearly three months with a knee injury.
Devean George scored 12 points and Payton had 10 points and seven assists.
Elton Brand led the Clippers with 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Corey Maggette had 25 points and eight rebounds and Quentin Richardson added 21 points for the Clippers, who lost for the 11th time in 14 games.
It was 86-77 entering through three quarters. Bryant, who tied a franchise record with 24 points in the fourth period of Monday night’s game against Orlando, had six in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a 94-81 lead.
It was 105-94 when O’Neal fouled out. A free throw by Malone made it 106-98 with 54.3 seconds to go, but the Clippers drew within three on a basket by Keyon Dooling and a 3-pointer by Maggette with 17 seconds left.
The Clippers got a final chance when the Lakers committed a turnover with 10.8 seconds to play, but Maggette and Dooling missed 3-pointers.
“We wanted to put it in overtime,” Brand said. “Without Shaq, we thought, `Let’s do it.”’
The Clippers came awfully close.
“I’m disappointed,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “In the first half, we gave up a lot of easy baskets. In the second half, we came out and played much better defensively.
“We had a good run in the second half to give us a chance. We had two good opportunities at the end that would have forced overtime.”
The Lakers made their last 10 shots of the first quarter, capped by George’s long 3-pointer at the buzzer, and were 16-of-20 overall in the period for a 36-25 lead. The margin likely would have been greater had they not committed six turnovers to none for the Clippers.
The Lakers led 65-50 at halftime.
The game was played before a sellout crowd of 19,668. … The Lakers have won 25 of the last 28 games between the crosstown rivals, including two of three this season. The teams meet for the final time Friday night. … The Clippers (27-41) have equaled their victory total of last season, but are 13-25 since beating the Lakers 101-98 on Jan. 4. O’Neal and Malone sat out that game because of injuries. … Lakers F-C Horace Grant will see a hip specialist Friday in Boston. He said he has a tear in his hip. “If I get surgery and everything goes according to plan, I’ll be back in the second round (of the playoffs),” Grant said. … Clippers F Chris Wilcox missed his second game with a sprained left Achilles’ tendon. He said he hopes to play Friday night, but Dunleavy said he expects Wilcox to miss at least two more games. … The 36points were the most the Lakers have scored in a first quarter this season.