<
>

Shaq: 'Nobody's going to beat us'

4/16/2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal appears to be ready for the
playoffs.

His Los Angeles Lakers teammates seem to be getting there, too.

Despite his aches and pains, O'Neal had 41 points and 11
rebounds while playing 34 minutes Monday night, leading the Lakers
to a 111-104 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics.

The seven-point margin is misleading, since the Sonics outscored
the Lakers 14-3 to finish the game -- after the outcome had been
decided.

O'Neal shot 16-of-21 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the foul
line as the Lakers (57-24) won their 14th in a row at home and
surpassed their victory mark of the regular season last year, when
they won their second straight NBA championship.

"Nobody's going to beat us," O'Neal said. "A lot of teams
right now are playing great and we're not playing that great. So
what's already up must come down and what's down must go up.

"I think my guys are bored sometimes. Postseason's another
matter. I know they're going to be focused and they're not going to
be shying away. So I'm not worried at all. We'll be ready."

O'Neal has been slowed all year by a painful arthritic big toe,
and injured a knee slightly in Sunday's 128-120 double-overtime
loss at Portland. But none of that was evident in this game.

"Shaq was incredible and dominating out there," Lakers coach
Phil Jackson said. "We had a third quarter that looked like a team
I remember that played a little bit in the playoffs last year."

Kobe Bryant scored 15 of his 19 points in the third period, when
the Lakers took command, outscoring the Sonics 33-21 for a 93-75
lead.

A victory over the visiting Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night
in their regular-season finale assures the Lakers of a first-round
date with Portland and homecourt advantage against everyone except
against the Kings, whose 60-20 record is the league's best.

Derek Fisher added 13 points, Samaki Walker scored 12 and Rick
Fox had 10 for the Lakers.

Gary Payton had 20 points, five rebounds and eight assists, and
Peja Drobjnak added 18 points for the Sonics.

The Sonics (44-37), who lost their third straight and sixth in
seven games, will be the seventh or eighth seed in the West.

Seattle will be seventh if it beats Memphis in its finale
Wednesday night, and Utah (44-36) loses to Dallas and San Antonio
in its final two games.

"We basically have stopped playing," Sonics coach Nate
McMillan said. "We're going through the motions, I guess, until
the playoffs start. But whoever we face, we'll be swept. There's no
way you can flip the switch as we think we can."

Bryant had only two points in the first half, which ended with
the Lakers on top 60-54.

The Lakers took command by outscoring the Sonics 21-4 to extend
their lead to 83-62. Bryant had eight points, O'Neal six and Fisher
five during the spurt.

The Sonics outscored Los Angeles 15-5 to begin the fourth
quarter to draw within eight points. But the Lakers scored the next
10 points -- the final six by O'Neal -- to clinch the victory.

Seattle's Vin Baker, who had nine points and eight rebounds,
believes the Lakers are vulnerable in the playoffs.

"I think there's three or four teams in the league that can
beat the Lakers," he said. "I mean, they're a great team, but
this Western Conference is the best that I've seen in a long
time."

After O'Neal scored 11 of his team's 12 points in a little over
four minutes of the second quarter, Devean George made a 3-pointer
and Fox added four points to put the Lakers on top 53-45. Seattle
led 29-28 entering the second period.

Game notes
O'Neal has scored 40 or more points seven times this season
and is 19-of-24 from the foul line the last two games. ... All Los
Angeles starters scored in double figures, the first time that's
happened since March 19, 2001. ... The Lakers snapped a three-game
losing streak to the Sonics at Staples Center. ... The Lakers are
33-7 at home, tying them with New Jersey for the second-best
homecourt record in the NBA behind the Kings, who are 35-5. ... The
Sonics played without starting forward Rashard Lewis, who missed
his ninth game because of a sprained left ankle. Lewis is the
Sonics' second-leading scorer, averaging 16.8 points. ... The
Lakers were 3-1 against the Sonics this season after losing all
four games to them last season. ... The Lakers have won 10 of their
last 14 games. They won their final eight in the regular season
last year before their remarkable 15-1 playoff run. ... Payton,
with 6,918 assists, moved into 12th place on the NBA's career list
ahead of Guy Rodgers.