LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers found life without Shaquille O'Neal awfully difficult for more than three quarters Tuesday night.
Then, just when it appeared they were a lock to lose a rematch of June's NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers turned things around thanks to a resurgent Kobe Bryant, some air-tight defense and outstanding bench play.
Samaki Walker had a season-high 18 points and 10 rebounds, and Bryant scored eight points in the final 9:11 as the Lakers rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat the 76ers 88-82.
Bryant, who made only 2-of-14 shots in the first three quarters, went 4-for-5 in the final period, including a pair of difficult back-to-back jumpers that put the Lakers ahead 83-77 with 31.6 seconds left.
Hampered by a pulled muscle in his right rib cage, Bryant finished with 12 points on 6-for-19 shooting, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
''I'm hurting right now, but I'm hooked up to a nice little machine, so hopefully, I'll feel OK tomorrow,'' Bryant said, referring to a stem machine to aid circulation.
The Lakers play at Golden State on Wednesday night.
O'Neal, hampered by soreness in his right big toe for several weeks, was placed on the injured list before the game. The move means the NBA's most dominant big man, averaging 26 points and 11.5 rebounds, will miss at least four more games.
''The team responded to the challenge,'' Bryant said. ''Philly does an excellent job pressuring, so for me to create my shot, I have to make explosive movements, and every time I do that, it hurts.
''So I just had to wait, and keep the game close, and when it got down to the fourth quarter, I had to suck the pain up and hit some big shots.''
Bryant combined with reserves Robert Horry, Devean George and Lindsey Hunter to score all 28 Los Angeles points in the final period -- Horry and George had seven each, and Hunter six on a pair of 3-pointers.
But, as Lakers coach Phil Jackson pointed out, defense was the difference in a 28-9 run to finish the game.
''We had a 33-point second half after giving up 49 in the first half,'' he said.
The 76ers committed seven of their 15 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Two free throws by Horry with 27.1 seconds to play extended the Lakers' lead to eight points, but the 76ers closed within three on two free throws by Allen Iverson and a 3-pointer by Matt Harpring.
However, George made a free throw with 13.6 seconds left, and two more after a turnover by Iverson.
Iverson had eight of his 31 points during a 12-0 run that gave the 76ers a 73-60 lead with 9 1/2 minutes remaining before the Lakers took over.
''We had this one in the bag,'' said Iverson, who also had eight rebounds and four assists. ''We gave this one away, we gave them a gift -- a Christmas gift. We just don't finish games out.''
Brian Shaw added a season-high 13 points, and Slava Medvedenko, starting in O'Neal's place, added 12 for the Lakers, whose 20-4 record is the NBA's best.
Dikembe Mutombo had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and Derrick Coleman added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the 76ers (11-16).
The Lakers beat the 76ers in five games last June to win their second straight NBA championship.
''Shaq or no Shaq, we should have won the game, and we didn't,'' Harpring said. ''It's a hard game to explain, because we were beating them the whole game, and it's just frustrating we didn't pull it out.''
Lakers physician Dr. Steve Lombardo didn't guess as to when O'Neal would return. The 29-year-old center is eligible to play again Jan. 4 when the Lakers entertain Phoenix.
''He's had arthritis in his big toe for a long time,'' Lombardo said. ''It just recently flared up, an occupational hazard. With this kind of sport -- running, jumping, pushing off -- it's more likely to flare up.''
O'Neal has also been bothered by soreness in his left foot, and is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Wednesday.
The 76ers led 49-39 at halftime, holding the Lakers to under 40 points in the first half for only the second time this season.
Iverson scored 12 points in the first quarter as the 76ers took a 21-18 lead. Walker, who normally starts at power forward but played center in O'Neal's absence, made all five shots he attempted for 10 points -- nearly double his 5.3-point average coming in.
Knicks 102, Raptors 94
NEW YORK -- Allan Houston scored a season-high 34 points, including a three-point play with 3:05 left that ended Toronto's final rally, and New York snapped a four-game home losing streak.
New York, without Marcus Camby (sore toe), shot 6-for-8 from 3-point range in the first quarter and held off the Raptors in the fourth after they pulled within one point twice.
Latrell Sprewell added 21 points and helped hold Vince Carter to two points in the first half and 15 overall -- more than 11 below his average.
Morris Peterson scored 22 points to lead the Raptors, who had their three-game winning streak end.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.