Lakers never been better through 14 games


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A month into the season, the Lakers were
waiting for their first major test. They passed it easily.

Kobe Bryant scored 33 points and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the
Milwaukee Bucks 104-85 Tuesday night in a showdown of the teams
with the NBA's two best records.

"We didn't shoot the ball well, but we won by 19 and that
should tell people something," said Shaquille O'Neal, who had 19
points but spent most of the game double-teamed and kicked the ball
out to his teammates.

The Lakers pulled away in the second half and improved to 9-0 at
Staples Center, while the Bucks lost for the first time in five
road games. Milwaukee came in with one loss.

"They are the two-time defending champions, so the title
definitely has to go through them," said Sam Cassell, who led the
Bucks with 23 points.

"It's too long of a schedule to highlight the schedule with one
particular game. Sure, it was a game against probably the best team
in basketball, but that doesn't make or break our season," he

Besides being the only team in the league with one loss, the
Lakers are off to their best-ever start after 14 games with a 13-1

"It says we're NBA champs," Bryant said. "Even though we're
down by 15, we have confidence in ourselves that we can come back.
We're going to keep on fighting."

Samaki Walker grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds for the Lakers,
who had a 57-36 rebounding edge, including a season-high 24
offensive boards.

After beating up on Western Conference teams with losing
records, the Lakers finally found a challenge against the East's
top team. The Bucks led by 15 points in the first half before their
run-and-gun shooting started missing.

"They haven't had a (good) team to play in a while, and we've
been struggling offensively," said Milwaukee's Ray Allen, who had
13 points. "We hadn't beaten any good teams, so this was a good
challenge for us."

The Lakers clung to a 74-71 lead at the start of the fourth
quarter, but Bryant continued a hot shooting streak that began in
the third period.

He scored the Lakers' first seven points of the fourth for an
81-73 lead. Robert Horry tossed in a 3-pointer and the Lakers led
by 11 with 9:25 remaining. Horry finished with 13 points.

"We just had to make a statement because we didn't win a game
against them last year," Horry said, recalling the Bucks' 2-0

The Bucks' shooting remained errant, while Allen and Thomas
found foul trouble. Thomas picked up his fourth, and four minutes
later, Allen got his fifth.

Cassell scored the first six points of the third period to keep
Milwaukee ahead 55-47. Then Bryant and O'Neal took over.

Bryant dunked off a pass from O'Neal and hit a corner jumper to
launch the Lakers' comeback. O'Neal scored five in a row to draw
them within two.

Rick Fox hit a 3-pointer, O'Neal blocked Ervin Johnson's shot
and Bryant dunked at the other end to give the Lakers their first
lead of the second half, 70-67, with 2:20 remaining.

Thomas hit a 3-pointer to tie the game before Bryant hit a free
throw and a 3-pointer with the shot clock down to 2 seconds for a
74-71 lead heading into the final 12 minutes.

The Lakers whittled a 15-point deficit down to two at halftime
by outscoring the Bucks 21-8. Reserve Devean George energized the
Lakers, racing in and dunking off a teammate's miss before Bryant
hit a 3 to end the half down 49-47.

Game notes
The Lakers' 31 3-point attempts tied the franchise record.
They made 10, including three by Bryant. ... The game marked the
first regular-season meeting since C Greg Foster was traded to the
Bucks and the Lakers acquired G Lindsey Hunter on June 28. Hunter
scored five points and the shaven-head Foster had zero points in
two minutes. ... Utah remains the only team to score 100 points or
more against Los Angeles so far. ... The Bucks led at halftime for
just the fifth time in 11 games this season. ... Los Angeles
blocked a season-high 12 shots. ... Lakers' TV play-by-play
announcer Chick Hearn received a standing ovation on his 85th
birthday. ... The Lakers' biggest game of the season so far at
Staples Center drew Tiger Woods, tennis player Lindsay Davenport,
Pamela Anderson, Garry Shandling, Sly Stallone, Andy Garcia and
Jack Nicholson.