Sacramento 105, L.A. Lakers 99
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 25 (Ticker) -- Chris Webber
and the Sacramento Kings let their play do the talking.
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Webber collected 25 points and 15 rebounds as the Kings posted a 105-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in a rematch of last year's thrilling seven-game Western Conference Finals.
The Christmas Day matchup between the Lakers and Kings was one of the most anticipated in the NBA, even more so after a fight
between Doug Christie and Rick Fox in a preseason game that resulted in suspensions for both players. Shaquille O'Neal escalated the war of words when he referred to the Kings as the "Queens."
"There is history there, what happened last year and what happened during this year's preseason," Sacramento coach Rick
Adelman said. "This is the first game this year. This is a different year, you don't think about what happened last year."
The difference between the teams on Wednesday was illustrated after Los Angeles cut its deficit to 92-89 with 3:31 remaining.
Mike Bibby responded by making 1-of-2 at the line for Sacramento.
Kobe Bryant was stripped on an out-of-control drive and Jim Jackson converted a layup on the fast break for a six-point cushion. Derek Fisher missed a pair of jumpers and O'Neal missed a short shot on the next possession. Webber came through with a jumper for a 97-89 lead with 2:14 to go.
"Going through all we went through last year in Game 7, it was easier to be calm this game. Even though, in all honesty, we
were just as excited," Webber said. "We were just trying to keep our focus the whole game."
"We played our game and played defense the last five minutes perfectly," Kings center Vlade Divac said. "All of our guys moved around."
Los Angeles held a 12-point lead in the third quarter before the speed of Sacramento helped turn things around. Bryant and
O'Neal combined to make only 4-of-20 shots after halftime and two of those were meaningless layups by O'Neal in the final 30
"For a team as qualified, we're not doing things that make basketball sense," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Situations
where their team just dramatically overplayed Kobe and Shaquille, we didn't go away from them and use our offensive
system and play basketball away from them and come back in them in the second aspect or the second options. This is just a
matter of players playing with some insecurities right now."
Bryant chose to look at the bright side.
"The first half was probably the best we've played so far this season," he said. "We really had our rhythm going for us. We
played well in spurts. We're not at the level where we can play this well consistently for 48 minutes."
Peja Stojakovic matched a season high for Sacramento with 26 points and Bibby shook off 5-of-16 shooting for 14. Christie, a former Laker, keyed a strong effort on defense with six of the Kings' 13 steals.
"We knew that we were going to have to galvanize as a team in order to get this win today," Christie said. "We just wanted to
come out and play good basketball."
O'Neal had 27 points and a season-high 17 rebounds and Bryant added 27 and a career-high 15 boards. The duo made just 15-of-43 shots as Los Angeles shot a meager 37 percent (33-of-90).
Two foul shots by Fox with 8:18 remaining in the third quarter gave Los Angeles a 66-55 lead. The Lakers still held a 70-60
advantage after a short jumper by Fisher.
The Kings ripped off 11 straight points to halt Los Angeles' momentum. Christie scored on a three-point play, Bibby drilled a
three-pointer and Webber nailed two free throws to cap the run.
Webber's two free throws came after a hard foul by Robert Horry. The two players squared off briefly and Horry had a smirk on his face, but Webber and the Kings ended up with the last laugh.
"We really didn't put a whole lot on it," Christie said. "This is just one, we have to play them three more times and this
isn't even the playoffs yet."
The start of the game did not feature the usual handshakes and fist touches that most teams exchange before the opening tip.
Christie and Fox stood right next to each other to vie for the tip, but neither acknowledged the other.
While O'Neal had solid numbers on offense, he was exploited on defense. Sacramento had plenty of easy baskets and held
a 52-30 advantage in points in the paint.
"He's not as explosive as he was at one point in his career, obviously," Phil Jackson said. "I don't expect it's due to age,
I think it's due to an operation and whatever he has tying him down in his tennis shoes. I don't expect to see him as active or as mobile or as physically dominating as he was four years ago."
The Kings received a stellar effort from their bench, which combined to make 12-of-21 shots. Bobby Jackson scored 11 points, Jim Jackson added eight and Keon Clark netted seven, including a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop feed from Bobby Jackson in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles' reserves failed to match that effort. The trio of Horry, Devean George and Brian Shaw combined to convert only 7-of-18 shots for 17 points.
"It definitely tainted the Christmas spirit," Fox said. "Their team was playing better now and it showed today."
Sacramento has won 11 out of 14 and improved to 9-2 against Pacific Division opponents.
Los Angeles has lost six out of eight games and is sixth in the division, 11½ games behind the front-running Kings.