Regular Season Series (Game 4 of 4)

Series starts 11/15

Game 1: Thursday, November 15th
Game 2: Thursday, December 20th
Game 3: Sunday, December 30th
Game 4: Sunday, March 3rd

Rockets 79


Lakers 95

(41-17, 21-7 home)

    Coverage: KTXH

    6:30 PM ET, March 3, 2002

    STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA

    1 2 3 4 T
    HOU 19 19 20 2179
    LAL 18 28 25 2495

    Top Performers

    Hou: W. Williams 19 Pts, 2 Reb, 1 Ast

    LAL: S. O'Neal 36 Pts, 14 Reb, 7 Ast, 2 Blk

    O'Neal honors teammate with 36 points, 14 rebounds

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The No. 8 jersey was awfully snug on Shaquille O'Neal's 335-pound frame, but it got his message across.

    Shaquille O'Neal

    Shaquille O'Neal shoves two of his 36 points down the Rockets' throat.

    After wearing Kobe Bryant's jersey during warmups, player introductions and the national anthem, O'Neal dominated Houston with 36 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists as the Lakers -- playing without Bryant -- beat the Rockets 95-79 Sunday night.

    Bryant was serving the first game of a two-game suspension for his fight with Indiana's Reggie Miller on Friday night.

    "That's my guy. I know they're going to show it on every channel, and that's why I did it -- to keep him alive," O'Neal said of his decision to don Bryant's jersey.

    "I know he's going to come back with a vengeance. It's going to put us right back on track. Everything happens for a reason."

    The NBA suspended Bryant and Miller two games apiece earlier Sunday.

    O'Neal has called Bryant his "little brother" and Bryant's brief bout with Miller followed O'Neal's wild swing at Brad Miller, then with Chicago, back in January.

    O'Neal drew a three-game suspension, and while he was out, Bryant played with the Los Angeles center's No. 34 written on his shoes.

    Lakers coach Phil Jackson seemed to appreciate the way O'Neal chose to show his support for Bryant.

    "It was motivation for the team and sympathy for Kobe not being here," Jackson said. "I was surprised, but not totally surprised that something like that would happen with Shaq. I think there was a message he was trying to send to the rest of the team."

    O'Neal, who promised before the game to "hold the fort" during Bryant's absence, dominated inside against the Rockets, going 15-for-21 from the floor and 6-for-11 from the line. He grabbed seven offensive rebounds.

    "I'm not saying they're better without Kobe, but there's no difference because that means Shaq plays even harder," said Houston reserve Walt Williams, who had 19 points in 21 minutes. "He's the best player in the NBA right now."

    The victory, coupled with Sacramento's 97-86 defeat to Indiana, pulled the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers to a game of the Kings for the league's best record.

    Robert Horry added 14 points and eight rebounds for Los Angeles, which moved ahead of the Rockets early in the second quarter and stayed there, opening a 59-42 margin four minutes into the third.

    Steve Francis scored 20 points for Houston, but was 7-for-20 from the floor.

    Bryant took a swing at Reggie Miller just after the final buzzer of the Lakers' 96-84 victory Friday night, then the two wrestled briefly before the scuffle spilled over onto the scorers' table. Neither was seriously hurt.

    Bryant also was fined $12,500, and Reggie Miller $10,000.

    Bryant, whose two-game suspension will cost him about $250,000 in salary, also will miss the home game Tuesday night against the New Jersey Nets.

    Mitch Richmond started in Bryant's spot at guard against the Rockets and had eight points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes.

    Los Angeles was up 71-58 heading into the final quarter and stayed comfortably ahead.

    O'Neal had 22 points by halftime, and Los Angeles led 46-38.

    Game notes

    Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets' center for 17-plus seasons, will play at Houston on Tuesday night for the first time since joining the Raptors. ... The Lakers' Rick Fox, noting that the Pacers won at Sacramento without Reggie Miller, said, "Maybe they're a better team without him." ... Jackson said he doesn't believe other teams will try to goad the Lakers into fights, saying, "I don't think the league is going to allow people just to come out and start hammering our guys to get them to fight. I think referees are good enough to measure all that stuff out."

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press