LOS ANGELES, April 19 (Ticker) -- Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton had subpar games for the Los Angeles Lakers. But the Houston Rockets had little success stopping Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone.

Bryant scored 36 points and Malone had 17 for the Lakers, who pulled away in the second half en route to a 98-84 victory over the Rockets and a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.

Malone made 7-of-12 shots after going 3-of-14 and scoring seven points in Game One.

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Postgame comments: Play
"I did try to be aggressive," Malone said. "I said going into the game if they were going to leave me open, then I was going to take those shots. It's just one of those things. You take what the defense gives you."

O'Neal had just two points and three fouls in the first half and finished with a playoff career-low seven points, while Payton scored six.

Kobe Bryant's aggressive play got him to the foul line 17 times.
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"I kind of had to turn my aggression down a little bit," said O'Neal, who was 3-of-9 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. "I just tried to play good defense, but they called a couple of fouls. Overall, the team stepped up and I think we played much smarter."

"The thing about it is you've got to stick with what works for you," Malone added. "We have a system we try to run. We just have to stay focused. Even when Shaq picked up those fouls, we still realized what we had to do."

Houston had a 54-53 lead before Bryant made a wild layup with his back to his basket and 7:07 left in the third quarter. He was fouled and made the free throw to put Los Angeles by two points.

"That was a nice move," O'Neal said. "He got bumped in the air and didn't even look at the basket. He did the Jordan-type move in the air."

Cuttino Mobley countered with a dunk to tie it before Bryant made two free throws with 6:27 remaining in the period to trigger an 8-0 run that put the Lakers ahead for good. The Lakers held a 66-62 edge before Malone made a jumper with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.

Bryant followed with a 3-pointer and, after a layup by Houston's Steve Francis, sank three free throws following an ill-advised foul by Mobley with two seconds to go, opening a 74-64 cushion.

"I think today might have been Kobe's birthday, how generous they (referees) were to him out there," Francis said. "To me, that's what opened the game up. I thought we played hard and guys were aggressive at times, but we didn't keep the same intensity throughout the game."

The Rockets got no closer in the final quarter and trailed by as many as 17 points.

"First of all, just looking at the score you can tell it wasn't a close game," said Rockets center Yao Ming, who had 21 points but just one in the third quarter and six in the fourth. "And in the second half, you could tell that our attention slipped and we weren't focused on the game like we were the last time.

"I think everybody is tired at this point in the season. You can't say 'I'm coming off a back-to-back.' Everybody's got the same schedule."

Jim Jackson added 19 points and Francis collected 18, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for a triple-double in his second career playoff game.

"It was tough," Francis said, "because there was one point I think at the end of the third quarter, when I drove to the basket, missed a layup and they came down and hit a three. And after that, the game just kind of opened up in their favor."

The Rockets struggled at the line, going just 19-of-30. The Lakers were 23-of-27, with Bryant sinking 16-of-17.

Game Three of the best-of-seven series is Friday in Houston.

"We stuck with them for a while," Mobley said. "It was just towards the end of the third quarter, I think, we cracked as a team and they capitalized. It's really not back to the drawing board. We're down 2-0 right now, but you know, you don't give up."