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Sunday, Mar. 25 6:30pm ET
Shaq leads charge with 23 points, 15 rebounds


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A year ago, the Sacramento Kings nearly knocked off the Lakers in a tense five-game playoff series.

Shaquille O'Neal
Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal eyes the rim over Kings center Vlade Divac.
Whatever the Kings learned last spring, it's clear they've completely forgotten it this season.

Shaquille O'Neal had 23 points and 15 rebounds as Los Angeles scored 18 straight points in the fourth quarter to beat the Kings 84-72 Sunday for the Lakers' sixth straight regular-season victory over the Kings.

The world champions joined Sacramento atop the Pacific Division by destroying the Kings in the fourth, even without Kobe Bryant, who hurt his ankle Wednesday at Milwaukee. O'Neal was good, but the Kings helped out by missing 15 straight shots during a paralyzing fourth-quarter stretch.

"They couldn't find a rhythm," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who mostly watched the fourth quarter reclined in his seat as Sacramento self-destructed. "They played the game we wanted, and without (Chris) Webber having a really hot night, that was a big problem."

O'Neal played his customary Superman role splendidly, especially in a late-game sequence in which he hit two free throws, intercepted a pass at the other end and outran Webber for a breakaway dunk that gave the Lakers an 11-point lead with 2:37 left. He even hit five straight free throws in the final minutes.

Rick Fox had 17 points and Brian Shaw added 14 for the Lakers, who won in the NBA's toughest arena for the second time this season and earned the tiebreaker edge if the teams finish tied for the division lead. Sacramento (46-22), which fell to 28-6 at Arco Arena, has two games in hand on the Lakers (47-23).

The Lakers beat the Kings last fall while Webber was out of the lineup, and they won again last month with O'Neal out of the lineup.

While O'Neal did a bit of everything despite foul trouble, the Kings suffered their most embarrassing collapse of the season. Webber's jumper with 11:28 left gave Sacramento a 62-53 lead, but the Kings didn't score again until Vlade Divac's free throws with 3:32 left.

The Kings, who played under assistant coach John Wetzel after Rick Adelman was sent home with the flu, missed easy shots and took bad shots. They made bad passes and didn't catch good passes. The offensive flow that usually makes Sacramento the NBA's most exciting team completely disappeared.

"We got stuck on 62 for the longest time," Wetzel said. "We finally made a couple of shots, but by then they had a (large) lead."

Sacramento, which had its seven-game home winning streak snapped, missed 18 of its first 20 shots in the fourth quarter and finished with a point total that was seven below the high-scoring Kings' previous season-low of 79. They shot a season-low 32 percent and made a season-low 27 field goals.

"I think everybody knows that's not indicative of how we play," Doug Christie said. "I don't know what happened, but we've got to recover from it."

Webber had 15 points on 7-for-26 shooting and 10 rebounds, while Christie also had 15 points. Peja Stojakovic had nine points and 11 rebounds, but he and Webber shot a combined 2-for-11 in the fourth quarter.

"We didn't tear it up on offense," Shaw said. "They got their open shots, and Webber and Stojakovic got their opportunities, but they weren't falling. It was a combination of our offense and them not making a whole lot of shots."

Both teams abandoned any pretense of a fast break in this late-season game, instead playing half-court, jump-shooting offenses. O'Neal's foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the first half, while Webber stayed outside even more than usual.

"We're not going to outrun anyone, so we wanted to set the tempo," Lakers forward Horace Grant said. "Once we did that, we felt in control of the game. This is a great game to win."

Neither team gained a large lead until O'Neal's foul trouble forced him to the bench, and Sacramento held Los Angeles scoreless for more than five minutes late in the third quarter. The Kings made an 11-3 run and led by as much as 11 points until O'Neal returned in the fourth.

Game notes
The Kings play host to the Knicks on Tuesday night before traveling to Staples Center to face the Lakers again Wednesday. ... Stojakovic went to the locker room in the first half after twisting his right ankle, but he returned. ... The Kings said Jason Williams felt soreness in both feet during the second half. He didn't play in the fourth quarter, though he rarely does. ... Grant blocked four shots for the Lakers. ... The Lakers have beaten the Kings 15 times in their last 18 meetings. ... Webber's 15 points gave him 9,990 for his career.

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