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Bryant overcomes rib injury to rally Lakers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers found life without

Shaquille O'Neal awfully difficult for more than three quarters

Tuesday night.

Allen Iverson did his part with 31 points, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Sixers' fifth straight loss to the Lakers.
Allen Iverson did his part with 31 points, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Sixers' fifth straight loss to the Lakers.

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.

Game notes
Jackson coached in his 10th Christmas game in 12 years as

an NBA head coach. His teams are 9-1. ... The Lakers are 17-10 in

Christmas games. ... The 76ers played their first Christmas game

since 1988 and are 8-8 overall. Coach Larry Brown is 2-2. ...

Despite their poor record, the 76ers entered as the NBA leader in

scoring defense, having allowed 87.1 points per game. ...

Medvedenko, a 22-year-old player from Ukraine, made his first NBA

start. ... The Lakers are 40-26 without O'Neal since he joined them

before the 1996-97 season. ... To replace O'Neal on their roster,

the Lakers activated F-C Jelani McCoy from the injured list. McCoy

was sidelined since Nov. 25 due to a bone bruise in his right foot.