SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 24 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant showed Chris Webber how it's done.

Bryant made two clutch baskets down the stretch after teammate Shaquille O'Neal fouled out and Webber missed a potential game-winning shot as the Los Angeles Lakers sent a huge message with a 97-96 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Bryant scored 29 points as he picked up the slack for O'Neal, who had 21 points but was limited to nine shots by a collapsing defense and 36 minutes by foul trouble. He took over the offense after the 7-2, 350-pound O'Neal fouled out with 1:19 left.

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Vlade Divac was a monster on the glass, collecting 17 rebounds.
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"We've been in those type of situations before," Bryant said. "I just responded to a challenge. Every time we get in that type of situation or predicament, he looks at me and I give him a little wink and that lets him know how I'm feeling."

"Whenever Shaq isn't in the game, Kobe is probably going to step up his output and be a little bit more aggressive," Lakers guard Derek Fisher added.

Vlade Divac made 1-of-2 from the line, pulling the Kings into a 93-93 tie. On the next possession, Bryant spun left away from Doug Christie and flipped in a layup, giving the Lakers the lead for good with 1:06 to go.

Christie made 1-of-2 from the line before Bryant struck again.

This time, he spun right and drilled a fadeaway 18-footer for a 97-94 lead with 36 seconds remaining.

Webber threw in a jump hook with 29 seconds left and the Kings forced a shot-clock violation, getting back the ball for a final possession. They went on the low right block to Webber, whose turnaround 10-footer was challenged by Robert Horry and bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.

"I thought I had it," Webber said. "The only thing is I didn't know how much time I had left, but besides that I had a good look and it didn't drop."

"He kind of ran out of real estate and then he had to shoot back this way, so I think that kind of messed him up," Horry said. "He wasn't expecting it to be that low."

It was a big statement by the two-time defending champion Lakers, who remain one-half game behind the league-leading Kings atop the Pacific Division. But they took a 2-1 lead in the season series and won at ARCO Arena, where the Kings were 30-3 and had an aura of invincibility.

"I do believe in statement games," Bryant said. "They have been playing extremely well at Arco and for us to come in and win the game, especially this type of game, because we didn't play good basketball, I think it does send a little message."

"They probably would've started to question how good we really are and that we lost to three top playoff teams in the last week," Fisher said. "So it definitely was a big win .. it spares us a few more days of people getting on our case."

Even Webber admitted his team had no chance of beating Los Angeles in the playoffs without the home-court advantage. The teams meet again at the STAPLES Center on April 17, the last night of season.

"I felt the game was definitely important, but I've been saying all week long that I hope we get better as a team," Webber said. "This game isn't going to decide the championship."

"The regular season, if we wind up having home-court advantage, that is great," Bryant said. "But if we don't, that's fine, too. But when the playoffs start, the title has to come through L.A. I don't care what your record is."

Webber had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Kings, who used just seven players and saw six of them score in double figures. Sacramento played without All-Star forward Peja Stojakovic, who sat out with a strained right hamstring.

"It's going to be a day-to-day situation," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "I don't anticipate him playing on Tuesday."

Bobby Jackson and Mike Bibby opened the fourth quarter with 3-pointers, giving the Kings an 80-73 lead. O'Neal scored five points and Devean George four in a 9-0 run that gave the Lakers an 82-80 edge with nine minutes to go.

A jumper by Bryant extended the lead to 89-84 with 5:34 left before O'Neal picked up his fifth foul. Webber had two free throws and a tip-in before Bryant made a floater in the lane for a 91-88 lead with 3:07 to go.

"Kobe came out and played really well, especially in the fourth quarter," Bobby Jackson said.

Jackson's layup and a hook by Divac gave Sacramento its last lead before Fisher hit a long jumper with 1:39 to go.

Fisher scored 16 points and George added nine for the Lakers, who shot 51 percent (41-of-81) and held a 38-12 edge in bench points.

Christie scored 18 points, Hedo Turkoglu added 17 and Vlade Divac pulled down 17 rebounds for the Kings, who wasted a 48-36 edge on the boards by shooting 40 percent (35-of-87). Webber made just 9-of-26 shots.

"I just missed a lot of shots, shots I feel I should make," Webber said. "I shouldn't miss those shots."

With Webber starting quickly, the Kings scored eight of the first 10 points. His layup made it 26-18 with 2:35 left in the first quarter. But the Lakers closed to 30-27 after one period.

In the second quarter, Slava Medvedenko filled in nicely as O'Neal encountered foul trouble. He scored all eight of his points in the period, and LA took a 51-49 lead to intermission.