Lakers Escape With a Victory


The Lakers had to hold their breath and hold the Dallas Mavericks just once.

They had to hang on, make their free throws, then gasp one last time.

Easy? This one was excruciating for the Lakers.

Against an opponent they had dominated 18 consecutive times previously, with their defense wilting under a Dallas Maverick three-point avalanche, the Lakers needed free throws out of Shaquille O’Neal and a play by Kobe Bryant. And it still almost was not enough.

Finally, they could only freeze, and watch Michael Finley’s top-of-the-circle three-pointer bounce an inch long, to give the Lakers a 108-106 victory before 18,997 at Staples Center on Monday night.

“I think it was kind of what we call a holiday mood,” Laker Coach Phil Jackson said. “Better to give than to receive and we almost gave a game away.”


Jackson said once Dirk Nowitzki started making deep shots, the Lakers sagged on defense and let the Mavericks back into a game they should have lost by much more.

“Defensively, we fell apart in the fourth quarter,” Jackson said of Dallas’ 35-point final period. “Started with a four-point play to Nowitzki, and boy, he just caught us napping a couple of times out there.

“We were ripe for a loss tonight and we escaped. And I hope the guys understand that and I think they do.”

O’Neal, who scored 35 points and had 14 rebounds, had a more concise opinion of what happened.

“We probably played down to their stinking level,” said O’Neal, who made both free throws after being fouled intentionally with 47.5 seconds left. “We didn’t play very well. It’s not a win we should be very proud of, but we won the game.

And the two free throws?

“I always do that,” O’Neal said. “That . . . will never work against me. . . . Lucky I missed 12 shots. Because I was told to get 50 by the coaching staff. But I missed too many shots.”


It was their ninth consecutive victory--the longest winning streak in the NBA this season--and their 19th straight defeat of the Mavericks, though it was far tougher than the rest.

The Lakers are 24-5, the best record in the league and their best start since they went 24-4 in 1985-86.

After O’Neal swished both free throws (he made seven of 10 on the night) to give the Lakers a 106-103 lead, the biggest Maverick bomb landed with maximum impact.

Finley, after missing a forced jumper, got another try seconds later and made a three-pointer deep in the corner to tie the score, 106-106, with 21.4 seconds to play.

That was the Mavericks’ seventh three-pointer of the quarter.

After the Lakers called time out to set up a play, Bryant spun into the lane and was fouled by Sean Rooks with 8.6 seconds left.

Bryant made both foul shots, his first game-on-the-line free throws since he missed two at the end of Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs in last season’s Western Conference semifinals. Kobe finished with 25 points.


And Jackson said that, although he designed the Lakers’ final play to go to Glen Rice after some Bryant penetration, he didn’t mind when Bryant took it all the way to the basket to draw a foul.

“Kobe went off a little bit on his own--we had something else designed, but he felt that he had a good opportunity and that’s fine, he felt comfortable with it,” Jackson said.

Ron Harper, who had 17 points on eight-of-nine shooting, said this kind of game might have been foreseeable after beating the defending champions on Christmas and after eight consecutive victories.

“After playing the San Antonio Spurs, you have to turn and play this kind of team--you don’t know what kind of ballgame we were going to have against this team,” Harper said.

“They had some guys who made some good shots for them tonight. Turns out that they hung around and hung around and had a chance.

“It’s just a holiday spirit, the holiday season,” Harper said. “We made their season--almost.”




Warrior coach P.J. Carlesimo, whose tenure was marked by the Latrell Sprewell incident, was fired. Page 6