Sacramento has chased the Lakers ever since Chris Webber's arrival revitalized the franchise. The Kings realize they're still a notch below the Lakers in the West, but ending Los Angeles' nine-game winning streak with consummate team basketball was particularly sweet for them since Webber remains out with a sprained ankle.
"Ultimately, we were going to have to prove to ourselves that we could beat them," said Doug Christie, who shook off an injured hand to play an vital role in the win. "For our own mental state, we needed to know that we could win. They're a championship team, and they're our biggest test."
Six Kings scored in double figures, and a group defensive effort
made Kobe Bryant relatively ineffective -- even while Shaquille O'Neal had another outstanding game with 31 points and 16 rebounds.
In just their third loss in 42 games dating back to last season, the Lakers were reduced to an ineffective two-man team until a late rally fell short. Still, the struggles barely caused any concern in the defending champions' locker room.
"They played a great game, but we still had a couple of opportunities to win," said O'Neal, who went 3-of-11 on free throws. "They played their best. We played about 60-65 percent. We just have to get back on track. Out of 18 games, I'll take 16-2 any time. We just have to bounce back, and we will."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson has been expecting such a game from his team for several days. After a disjointed effort on Wednesday in a win over Dallas, Jackson wasn't surprised to see Los Angeles fall to the hyped-up Kings on one of the NBA's most hostile road floors.
"There was a certain sense of us not playing with the kind of rhythm we had before," Jackson said. "We'll get back in it. We needed a game like this. There were a lot of things that just didn't go well, but we finished the game strong, and we got what we needed."
Jackson said earlier that the Lakers are relying on O'Neal to carry too much of the load. Even Bryant, the league's third-leading scorer, seems to be deferring shots to O'Neal or shooting off-balance.
Bryant had 23 points against the Kings, but just eight after halftime on 3-of-10 shooting. Outside of O'Neal and Bryant, the Lakers were 13-for-44 from the field.
"This type of competition is what we love," Bryant said. "We aren't shooting like we want to, but we were right there at the end. It's good for us."
It was the teams' second meeting of the season -- the first at Arco Arena since the Lakers swept Sacramento out of the playoffs last spring. Last month at Staples Center, the Kings went 1-for-19 from the 3-point line in a loss; on Friday night, they were 8-for-12 from beyond the arc.
"We wanted to come in and play great, and we definitely played a great game tonight," Bobby Jackson said. "We came out with a lot of energy, and that set the tone of the game."
The Kings led 88-77 with 1:46 to play before the Lakers began
fouling on every possession. The strategy allowed Los Angeles to
cut the lead to 94-91 on Bryant's jumper with 17 seconds left, but
Christie and Stojakovic hit late free throws to seal it.
Christie, who missed the Kings' previous game against Philadelphia, returned to Sacramento's starting lineup with seven stitches in his hand. He played excellent defense in the second half against Bryant while getting 15 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
Bibby played 41 minutes without a turnover, though O'Neal
said he "hit a lot of lucky shots." ... Bryant and O'Neal scored all 19 of the Lakers' points in the first quarter. Robert Horry's jumper with 9:12 left in the second quarter was the first basket by the dynamic duo's teammates. ... A young girl sitting on the
baseline held a large yellow sign reading: "Shaq, don't squish me!" ... Raiders running back Charlie Garner and Devil Rays slugger Greg Vaughn were in the crowd.