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Lakers fall flat in Game 3

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal didn't accuse anyone of flopping in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals -- a good thing since it was the Los Angeles Lakers' big man and his teammates who fell flat.

Now, the two-time defending NBA champions face an uphill battle if they're to accomplish a three-peat.

The Sacramento Kings, owners of the best regular-season record and proud of it, built a shocking 27-point lead before settling for a 103-90 victory over the Lakers on Friday night and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game 4 will be played Sunday at Staples Center, where the Lakers had won 19 of their last 20 and had a 10-1 record against the Kings before this game.

Chris Webber had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Mike Bibby added 24 points and five assists for the Kings, playing in the conference finals for the first time since 1981.

The decisive victory gave the Kings a 5-0 road playoff record and 17 wins in their last 19 away games after they began the season by going 13-14 on the road.

''No, I'm not surprised,'' said Bobby Jackson, who had 11 points and was one of six Kings to score in double figures. ''We have a lot of confidence on the road. There's a lot of people who weren't giving us a chance to win this game or this series. We know what we can do.''

If the Lakers didn't know before, they do now.

''I don't think we get a lot of credit,'' said Vlade Divac, whose defense was a key factor and was praised by O'Neal, who has been calling the Kings center a flopper for years. ''We have confidence.

''They're still the champions,'' cautioned Divac, who had 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. ''For us to beat the Lakers, we have to play 48 minutes the same way.''

The Kings took command early, rolling to a 32-15 lead after a near-perfect first quarter, and they led 83-56 after Doug Christie made two free throws with 9:21 remaining.

It was 87-61 when the Lakers suddenly scored 14 points in a span of 45 seconds on two 3-pointers by Kobe Bryant, one each by Devean George and Lindsey Hunter, and a layup by Hunter after a steal by Brian Shaw.

That cut Sacramento's lead to 12 with over seven minutes left, but the Lakers weren't closer than 11 after that despite making eight 3-pointers in 17 attempts in the fourth including four by Bryant and two by Hunter.

''We just did not take care of business, we are not going to make any excuses,'' O'Neal said. ''This is just one of those days for us where we did not play well and the other team played well, and now we have a fight on our hands.

''We just have to fight, and we play better when we fight.''

O'Neal had 20 points and 19 rebounds, but scored only five points in the second half and committed five turnovers. Divac said the Kings doubled O'Neal more in the second half than the first and were generally more aggressive on defense.

''Nobody can play him 1-on-1,'' Divac said.

Divac said O'Neal's constant flop talk doesn't bother him.

''It would be different if I know he's a bad man,'' Divac said. ''Shaq is a good man. I like Shaq as a player. I respect him a lot. When I'm on the floor, I'll do everything I can to win the game except hurt anyone.''

The loss gave the Lakers consecutive playoff defeats for the first time since the 2000 conference finals. They had won 12 straight road playoff games before losing 96-90 at Arco Arena on Monday night.

It might have been the franchise's biggest victory in 51 years, but the Kings didn't do much celebrating of their first postseason win in Los Angeles in six tries.

''It's a big night for our fans, because we feel like we're a good road team,'' Webber said. ''We play so well at home, but sometimes when you get on the road and you release that pressure, it can help you a lot.''

Sacramento didn't miss All-Star Peja Stojakovic, who missed his fifth game because of a sprained ankle.



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