It's been Shaquille O'Neal's season, and if what happened this week is an accurate indication, the playoffs might be his, too.
O'Neal, a virtual lock for his first NBA Most Valuable Player award, equalled a career playoff high with 46 points, and also had 17 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Los Angeles Lakers opened the playoffs on Sunday with a 117-107 victory over the pesky Sacramento Kings.
Many in the sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center chanted, "MVP, MVP," in the final minute of play, after O'Neal had been taken out of the game.
The 28-year-old O'Neal hasn't won an NBA championship and has said repeatedly that's his main priority.
His chances right now look pretty good under first-year Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls to six titles in the 1990s - none before Michael Jordan turned 28.
Game 2 in the best-of-five series will be played on Thursday night, and Sacramento is home for the third game next Sunday.
Kobe Bryant scored 23 points and Glen Rice 18 for the Lakers, who haven't won a championship since 1988.
Chris Webber, limited to 27 minutes by foul problems, led the Kings with a career playoff-high 28 points and five rebounds before fouling out with 6:53 left.
Jason Williams added 20 points and Tony Delk 17.
The Kings dropped three of four games to the Lakers this season, but lost by only three, one and seven points, while winning by 12.
They trailed by six with 4 1-2 minutes to play in this game before the Lakers scored six straight to put them away.
The Kings trailed by 16 points when Webber fouled out, but scored 10 straight - the final five by Vlade Divac - to make it 105-99. But that's as close as the Kings would get.
Bryant beat the shot clock with a jumper and, after Divac missed two free throws, O'Neal made a short bank shot and a dunk to make it 111-99 with 3:03 left.
Webber picked up his fifth foul, and a technical as well, with 1:14 left in the third quarter and the Lakers up 86-76. It was 91-79 entering the final period, and Webber fouled out two seconds after returning to the game.
The Kings entered the series bucking history as well as the Lakers. Since the 16-team playoff format was instituted 16 years ago, the underdogs have won just two of the 32 first-round series between No 1 and No 8 seeds.
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