<
>

After rout, Lakers fall to 2-12 on the road this year

12/21/2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- A rematch of the NBA Finals was
nothing like the original.

Jason Kidd had 27 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists as the
New Jersey Nets took control early and defeated the struggling Los
Angeles Lakers -- the team that swept them in the finals -- 98-71
Thursday night.

The events of last June were still on the minds of the Nets as
they played before their first sellout crowd of the season, but New
Jersey bore little resemblance to the squad that went down so
humbly in the championship series.

The Nets went ahead by 17 in the second quarter and stayed in
control the rest of the way, with Kidd hitting a succession of
shots late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to prevent
the Lakers from getting within striking distance.

"We as a team understand what happened last year, but this was
a regular-season game,'' Kidd said. "Everybody is talking about
revenge, but this was more or less trying to protect home court and
trying to get off a two-game losing skid.''

The loss dropped the Lakers' road record to 2-12, including 0-6
against teams from the East.

Los Angeles is 10-17 -- the 11th best record in the competitive
Western Conference.

"We were talking yesterday about what our position was as a
basketball club, how unbelievable it is to think that we could be
in 11th place,'' coach Phil Jackson said. "Someone said: 'We're
not an 11th-place team.' And I said 'Yeah, we are, we're an
11th-place team. We have to face that reality. That's exactly what
we are.''

The Lakers certainly didn't show any of the form that led them
to three consecutive NBA championships, but that's nothing new this
season for a team that's experiencing more hardship than it has in
years.

Kobe Bryant was 5-for-18 in the first half and finished with 21
points on 8-for-29 shooting, while Shaquille O'Neal took only seven
shots in the first half against New Jersey's double- and
triple-coverage and finished with 19 points.

"It was better tonight. I'm being totally honest with you, it
was better tonight,'' Bryant said.

Exactly what was better was hard to discern, although Jackson
credited his team for playing with a competitive edge.

"This team is slowly getting some life behind it,'' Jackson
said. "Some of our players played tense and tight, and as a result
we were unable to make the right plays at the right time.

Lucious Harris scored 19 and Kenyon Martin 16 for the Nets, who
improved 13-1 at home.

The Lakers missed 12 of their first 13 shots before O'Neal had a
dunk and a layup on consecutive possessions for a 10-9 lead. Bryant
finished 1-for-8 in the first quarter and Los Angeles shot just 27
percent as it trailed 21-18.

Referee Joey Crawford helped the Nets get a five-point play
early in the second. Rodney Rogers was fouled by Robert Horry on a
drive to the basket, and official Violet Palmer waved the shot off.

Crawford, however, overruled her and counted the basket. As
Rogers sank the foul shot to complete a three-point play, Crawford
whistled technical fouls on Jackson and Horry. Kidd made both free
throws for a 28-20 lead.

New Jersey stretched its advantage to 42-25 on an alley-oop dunk
from Kidd to Richard Jefferson before the Lakers cut their deficit
to nine, 46-37, at intermission.

O'Neal scored 10 points in the third quarter as the Lakers tried
to seize the momentum, but Kidd prevented it by making two jumpers
and drawing a charge in the final 2 minutes to help the Nets take a
68-59 lead into the fourth.

O'Neal started the fourth quarter with a dunk to make it 68-61,
but Jefferson hit two foul shots, Kidd made consecutive jumpers and
Rodney Rogers scored inside to put the Nets ahead by 15.

New Jersey outscored the Lakers 30-12 in the fourth quarter to
account for the final 27-point margin.

"It's another victory that helps our home record and gets us
going again,'' Jefferson said. "This game did not give us any
redemption for losing in the finals last season.''

Game notes
Samaki Walker was a last-minute replacement for Robert
Horry in the starting lineup. He had six rebounds and three blocks
in the first quarter alone. ... First returns in All-Star balloting
were released Thursday, with O'Neal holding only a slim lead of
9,787 votes over Houston's Yao Ming. ... Of New Jersey's 17 wins,
16 have been by seven points or more.