Lakers struggle against Kings

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The Independent Online

The coronation of the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Lakers is not going exactly as planned.

After leading the league with a 67-15 record this season and comfortably winning the first two games of their best-of-five playoff series against the Sacramento Kings, the Lakers expected to leave Sacramento with a few days to relax before the second round.

Instead, they headed home needing a victory on Friday night to advance in the playoffs. And with Shaquille O'Neal struggling with his shooting, the once invincible Lakers - who had winning streaks of 19, 16 and 11 games this season - seem flawed.

"I have to dig deeper and play my game," said O'Neal, who has gone 18-for-44 from the field in the last two games after shooting 63 percent in the first two games of the series.

After losing a second straight game in Sacramento, the Lakers will be forced to focus on the Kings while the Phoenix Suns - who dethroned the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and await the Lakers-Kings winner- can look ahead.

"We didn't want to be in this situation," said Lakers guard Glen Rice, whose team never lost three straight during the regular season. "Now we're in it, and we have to be prepared."

Chris Webber had 23 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, seven blocks and four steals on Tuesday night as the Kings defeated the Lakers 101-88 to even the series at 2-2. Los Angeles never led in the game, and got no closer than six points in the fourth quarter

Jon Barry had 17 points, Tony Delk had 12 and Predrag Stojakovic 11 as the Sacramento backups, who call themselves the "Bench Mob," outscored the Lakers' reserves 42-8 and provided the decisive spark for the second straight game.

While Sacramento point guard Jason Williams went 1-for-8 from the field and was benched for nearly the entire fourth quarter for the second straight game, the Kings' reserves outscored their Los Angeles counterparts 20-5 in the final period.

"Our game is not our bench, that's their game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It's playoff basketball, it's a different type of basketball, and we didn't pick up the intensity."

Kobe Bryant had 32 points for the Lakers, O'Neal had 25 points and 16 rebounds and Glen Rice had 17 points. But the rest of the Los Angeles squad had 14 points.

The normally unflappable Jackson looked pained at times, and his brow was covered with sweat. A sign in the crowd mocked "Zen Schmen," referring to Jackson's sometimes mystical approach to coaching.

Sacramento is trying to become the 13th team to come back from trailing 2-0 to win a series. No team has done it since the Houston Rockets in 1995.