EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ, April 3 (Ticker) -- Even without Shaquille O'Neal, the Los Angeles Lakers provided a major test for the New Jersey Nets.

Rookie Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd each made huge shots in the final two minutes as the Nets rallied after blowing a big lead for a 94-92 victory over the Lakers, who were without the injured O'Neal.

New Jersey sits atop the Eastern Conference but still has to prove itself against the league's elite teams, most of whom are in the West. O'Neal was sidelined with a sprained wrist, but the Lakers defeated the Nets without Kobe Bryant at the Staples Center on March 5.

"We were playing the best team in the league," New Jersey coach Byron Scott said. "Those guys have a lot of pride and they have the biggest heart in the league. Even without Shaq, they want to make a statement."

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With no Shaq to contend with, the lanes were free for Kenyon Martin to do some slammin'.
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The Nets took advantage of O'Neal's absence and led by as many as 19 points in the first half. But they trailed, 86-80, with 6:45 remaining before going on a 9-2 run to take the lead for good on Kenyon Martin's drive with 3:17 left.

Todd MacCulloch missed two free throws 36 seconds later and Jefferson nearly committed a turnover on a crucial possession before beating the shot clock with a baseline jumper for a 91-88 edge with 1:44 to play.

After Kerry Kittles made 1-of-2 free throws, Robert Horry brought Los Angeles within 92-91 on his 3-pointer with 30 seconds to go.

But Kidd, who had 13 points, 11 assists and six rebounds, responded with an eight-foot fadeaway jumper in the lane with five seconds left.

"It's hard to put in words what he means to this team right now," Scott said of Kidd. "He is just one of those guys who is rarity in this league. In the last three, four minutes of the game, he got guys open shots and he got the winning bucket that sealed the game."

On the ensuing possession, Los Angeles' Rick Fox got open on a screen and had a wide-open layup but was fouled hard by Martin.

"I could have dunked it, but that would've given us two points," Fox said. "So I gave a split second to let Kenyon catch up. I went up hoping to draw the foul, but Kenyon fouled me too hard and I couldn't squeeze it through."

Fox intentionally missed the second free throw, but Bryant's point-blank follow attempt bounced out.

"We made a similar play a couple of years ago in Golden State and it worked out for us," Bryant said. "On the play here tonight, Jason hit me and I didn't knock it down. But I did get a good look at it. Sometimes the ball doesn't go through for you and we just didn't get the bounce."

"First I couldn't believe he got there, and then when he got it in his hands, I couldn't believe he missed it," Scott said. "For us to come away with this victory, its just a great win for us. Anytime you beat the Lakers its an accomplishment."

Kittles scored 14 of his 18 points in the first quarter as New Jersey extended its franchise-record home winning streak to 12 games and set a new franchise mark with its 31st home win.

Martin had 18 points and three blocks and MacCulloch collected 17 points and eight rebounds for the Nets, who shot 50 percent (43-of-86) from the floor and held a 48-37 rebounding advantage.

New Jersey is three games ahead of the Detroit Pistons for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Bryant finished with 33 points and was almost singlehandedly responsible for the Lakers' comeback.

New Jersey had a 55-40 halftime lead, but Bryant scored 15 points in the third quarter and scored Los Angeles' final six points, making it 74-68 entering the fourth.

"I just wanted to lead by example," Bryant said. "I wanted to show my teammates that I was here. I was going to fight, even though we were down. I thought if I was playing my hardest, maybe they could gain some confidence."

The Nets had a 76-70 edge with 11:18 remaining, but Bryant converted a three-point play and Devean George followed with a 3-pointer to tie it with 10:02 left.

George's layup one minute later gave Los Angeles its first lead at 78-76.
Lucious Harris tied it on a layup before George buried another 3-pointer to spark an 8-0 run.

Brian Shaw made a 3-pointer and Bryant sank a short jumper to give the Lakers their largest lead at 86-78 with 6:45 left. But Martin sank an 18-footer and MacCulloch followed with a three-point play to spark the Nets' rally.

Derek Fisher scored 14 points and Samaki Walker added 13 and 14 rebound for the Lakers, who fell 2 1/2 games behind the league-leading Sacramento Kings for the best record in the Western Conference.

George finished with 11 points off the bench as Los Angeles shot 42 percent (36-of-86) from the floor and made 9-of-25 3-pointers.

Kittles scored 11 points in the first six minutes of the game and drained a 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the first quarter to give the Nets a 19-7 cushion.

"I felt a good rhythm and I was knocking down shots," Kittles said. "My teammates were doing a good job of passing me the ball, so it felt good."

New Jersey had a 33-23 lead early in the second quarter before Jefferson scored six points during a 12-3 run for its largest lead, 45-26, with 6:47 to go in the first half.

"It doesn't matter how you write it up, they are the champions," Kidd said. "You knew that coming into the game that we had to play. A true champion isn't going to lay down. They came out in the second half and made it a heck of a game, but we never lost our composure."