Kobe a non-factor as Kings cruise

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- If you believed Kobe Bryant, the

Sacramento Kings played the best defense he's ever seen. If you

believed Shaquille O'Neal, the referees were completely responsible

for the Kings' biggest win of the season.

And if you believed your eyes, the Kings' 102-85 victory over

the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday was baffling -- both because of

Sacramento's abrupt turnaround and Bryant's bizarre one-shot

performance in the first half.

Chris Webber had 25 points and 12 rebounds, Doug Christie added

21 points to his superb defense and the Kings halted their

late-season skid with a dominant outing against their archrivals.

Sacramento needs just one more win or one Lakers loss to clinch its

third straight Pacific Division title and the playoffs' second


"Statement? We've been together for so long that we don't need

statements," Webber said.

Mike Bibby had 15 points and eight assists for Sacramento

(55-25), which took a one-game lead over the Lakers (54-26) with

two to play by winning for just the fourth time in 10 games. The

Kings played with more desperation and passion than they've shown

in the seven weeks since Webber's comeback from knee surgery.

But even in a defeat that probably relegated them to the fourth

seed, the Lakers still stole the spotlight with another unique


Bryant, the NBA's fourth-leading scorer, took just one shot

while playing 21 minutes in the first half. He passed up open

looks, allowed Christie to bully him and didn't play his usual

aggressive game until the third quarter, when the Lakers were 21

points behind.

After finishing with eight points on 3-of-13 shooting, Bryant

insisted he wasn't avoiding shots -- even though that seemed obvious

to everybody else at Arco Arena. His lone first-half shot was a

missed 3-pointer when the shot clock was winding down midway

through the second quarter.

He did another strange thing afterward: He praised the Kings'

defense, which has been among the NBA's worst this season.

"They doubled me every time I touched the ball," said Bryant,

who scored at least 34 points in each of his last five games

against Sacramento. "So I just moved the ball, waiting for the

game to kind of open up. I've done that before when teams have

doubled me.

"They did a great job. They played very well. (Kings coach

Rick) Adelman had an excellent game plan for them. If we see them

again, we'll figure out what to do to counterattack them."

Bryant's reticence might have been a response to coach Phil

Jackson's recent criticism of the superstar's game. Jackson said

the Lakers frequently suffer when Bryant concentrates solely on

driving and scoring. Jackson wasn't making any guesses, refusing to

take reporters' questions after the game.

Gary Payton scored 15 points and Karl Malone had 13 for the

Lakers, who lost for the third time in four games -- their worst

stretch since the All-Star break.

"I've never seen Kobe take just (one shot)," Payton said. "I

don't think any of us came to play, and this is the outcome that


O'Neal also got just one shot in the first half, but he played

just 12 minutes after two early offensive fouls. He finished with

10 points and five rebounds -- but he saved his best performance for

the locker room, where he ripped the Kings as "underachievers,"

castigated the officials and again cursed on live television.

"We let (the referees) take us out of our game, but I'm still

not impressed," O'Neal said. "I think today it was a little bit

obvious that (the referees) tried to take over the game. They

changed the game. I wanted to come in here, play real hard, get

that big guy in foul trouble, make them play defense.

"It's obvious they're never going to play defense when all they

have to do is foul. ... Not impressed, not impressed. Not

(expletive) impressed, you know what I mean?"

Shaq got a one-game suspension in February for cursing the

referees during an on-court postgame interview.

Only the Los Angeles carnival could overshadow such a dramatic

reversal by the Kings, who surged ahead by 21 points in the first

half. In contrast to their performances in most recent games, they

never gave away the lead, keeping a double-digit margin throughout

the second half.

"I can't really take credit for the defense on Kobe," Christie

said. "First of all, it was a great game plan from the coaches.

Then, guys were helping me when he was putting the ball on the

floor. ... He's a smart player. I was thinking he would pick his

time to start shooting, but the guys stayed with me."

Game notes
Peja Stojakovic scored just 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting,

endangering his second-place standing in the NBA scoring race. ...

Bryant got his first point on a jumper with 3:53 left in the third

quarter. He also missed his final seven shots. ... Sacramento is

one game behind Minnesota for the conference's top spot, but the

Timberwolves have the tiebreaker.