In a season of unforeseen success, they took apart another stumbling block — a nagging inability to beat the Miami Heat since you-know-who left town, which they patched up with a 124-118 overtime victory Monday night at Staples Center.
The Lakers had been 1-4 against Miami since the Shaquille O'Neal trade, their worst loss coming three weeks ago in Miami, a 101-85 Christmas Day debacle in which they never led and never figured out how to stop Dwyane Wade.
Despite the absence of some key players in the always-existent Lakers-Heat drama — Shaquille O'Neal, Pat Riley, Lamar Odom — Monday's was a highly entertaining gathering, with plenty of scoring and subplots.
The final, lasting image for this season's rivalry, unless the teams meet in the Finals, will be an overtime taken by the Lakers — after they'd let a seven-point lead get away in the last 2 minutes 43 seconds of regulation.
"It was a good effort, I thought, against a team that knows how to play down the stretch pretty well," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
The Lakers looked in control after Wade (35 points, eight assists) was short on a three-point attempt with 27 seconds left in regulation, but Parker couldn't control the rebound as he fell out of bounds. Jason Kapono intercepted his off-balance heave toward the top of the key and quickly found Udonis Haslem for a dunk that tied the score at 110-110, ultimately sending the game to overtime.
Midway through the extra session, Parker was charged with a turnover after he again couldn't control a rebound, this time when Kapono air-balled a three-point attempt.
Parker, however, figured prominently in the final minute.
With Miami trailing by three, Wade couldn't get past Bryant and tried to hit James Posey in the corner, but Parker stepped in and stole the ball with 27.3 seconds left. He then added to his atonement by hitting two free throws with 16.1 seconds left to give the Lakers a 123-118 lead.
"Dwyane Wade [often] penetrates and tries to dish it out to either corner, and I just gave him a little head fake like I was going to go double him and I got back to the shooter," Parker said.
Said Jackson: "He's been playing really well. He stepped in and took that pass at the right time, an appropriate steal, again, at the end of the game."
There were other notable events, as always whenever O'Neal comes back to the "House that Shaq Built," as he once referred to it.
During a third-quarter timeout, he was shown on the scoreboard and was promptly booed by the crowd. He cupped his hand behind his right ear, asking for more noise, as some cheers were sprinkled among the boos, although boos took the day.
Jackson and O'Neal traded barbs three weeks ago in Miami, when Jackson chided O'Neal's work ethic as a Laker, and O'Neal swatted back by referring to Jackson as "Benedict Arnold," presumably for returning to coach the Lakers and Bryant.
But Jackson didn't think there would be any follow-up problems with his former center, even if they happened to cross paths in a Staples Center hallway. "It'll be fine," he said.
O'Neal, close to returning after being out more than two months, took in the game from the end of the Heat bench in a light blue suit. After the loss, he waited for Wade to join him in front of the bench and went to the locker room without saying a word to any Lakers.
He did not give any formal interviews but spoke playfully about possibly becoming a homeowner in L.A. again — he still likes it here in the summer, apparently — and joked that he didn't know what he missed more about his former city, the local media or the 405 Freeway. (It's probably a two-way tie for last.)
As for his former team, the Lakers (25-13) now hit the road for a three-game trip featuring dicey back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday against San Antonio and Dallas.
"We have a very difficult week," Jackson said. "We know we've got our challenge on the road. Tonight's game obviously was extremely important. We got off to the right start."