They showed it Wednesday night in the regular-season finale when
Kobe Bryant's 3-pointer at the end of double overtime gave the
Lakers a 105-104 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, and, more
importantly, the Pacific Division title.
Los Angeles finished as the second seed in the Western
Conference and will face Houston in the opening round of the
"We're ready. We know what we have to do," O'Neal said. "We
know what we are striving for. And we know we want to be the team
to win 16 games."
Bryant ducked out of the locker room without speaking to
reporters. He had been dogged in recent days by suggestions of poor
shot selection -- and then that he deliberately didn't take shots in
a key loss to Sacramento.
The Lakers began the night tied with the Kings atop the Pacific
Division. When the Kings lost 97-91 to Golden State, the Lakers had
Damon Stoudamire's jumper with 31.6 seconds left in the second
overtime tied it at 102, and he raced downcourt for a layup with
2.2 seconds left to give Portland the lead.
The Lakers inbounded from midcourt on the final play, and Bryant
popped free near the 3-point line. He caught Gary Payton's inbounds
pass, shot -- and swished -- before racing downcourt in celebration.
"It was a great shot by the young fellow," O'Neal said. "He
told us, `Set me a good pick and we're going home with a win.'
That's the sign of a great player, a great, confident shot."
Bryant finished with 37 points and eight rebounds.
As impressive as his final shot was, it was nothing compared to
the one at the end of the fourth quarter. Bryant, tightly defended
by Ruben Patterson, twisted and turned to get himself enough room
to launch an off-balance fling as he fell to his right.
Seconds earlier, Patterson missed two free throws that would
have iced the win.
Afterward, Bryant gave Patterson an autographed pair of his
"Yeah, I asked for his shoes," Patterson said. "I said,
`You've got to give me your shoes for that one.' "
The Lakers trailed by as many as 10 points before rallying in
the fourth quarter behind Bryant, whose 3-pointer with 3:21 left
gave Los Angeles its first lead, 82-81.
After Derek Anderson hit two jumpers to make it 87-84 for the
Blazers, Bryant missed a pair of free throws with 55.7 seconds
Patterson blew a dunk with 8.9 seconds left, but was fouled by
Bryant -- then buried his head in his hands after he missed both
The Lakers had exactly 8 seconds left to close the gap, and
Bryant delivered. He had 12 points in the fourth quarter alone.
After the Lakers went up 93-89, Zach Randolph gave the Blazers
back the lead at 95-93 with 47.9 seconds left. O'Neal's dunk sent
the game into a second OT.
The Lakers rallied without forward Karl Malone, who sprained his
right ankle late in the first half and did not return. The extent
of the injury was not known.
"I wouldn't begin to tell you what grade it is," Lakers coach
Phil Jackson said about the sprain. "It's not a minor one, it's
not a major one."
The Blazers were led by Randolph's 21 points and 18 rebounds.
"It hurt, man," Patterson said. "But it's done. You can't do
anything about it."
Portland was eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in
22 seasons Monday night. Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks made
liberal use of his bench against the Lakers, playing rookie Travis
Outlaw for just the eighth time this season.
Bryant, who had just eight points in Sunday's 102-85 loss at
Sacramento, had a season-high 45 points against the Warriors on
There was speculation Bryant's lack of shooting against the
Kings was a statement, but he later insisted that wasn't the case.
O'Neal, who left the Rose Garden in a fedora, finished with 25
points and 14 rebounds, but fouled out in the second overtime. He
also hit just one of his eight free throws.
"If I would have done some things, we would have gone home
earlier, so I'm ticked at myself," O'Neal said. "Good thing about
having a courageous little brother. He always has my back."
^Notes:@ The Blazers replaced Outlaw on the injured list with guard
Eddie Gill. Outlaw had been on the injured list with tendinitis in
his knees since Feb. 4. ... The Lakers did not arrive in Portland
until about noon Wednesday after having mechanical trouble with
their charter flight Tuesday night. Rather than waiting until the
wee hours of the morning for the problem to be fixed, "I just sent
them home," coach Phil Jackson said.