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Lakers Barely Home Free

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a night when Kobe Bryant had more whine in his game than poise and Shaquille O’Neal fouled out in regulation, the Lakers proved to still have enough in reserve to keep alive their lengthy winning streak over the Clippers.

Veteran Horace Grant scored the winning points on a rebound basket and Robert Horry capped a strong extra period with a last-second rejection on a shot by the Clippers’ Lamar Odom to give the Lakers a 116-114 overtime victory Saturday, extending their dominance over their city rivals to 16 consecutive games before a Staples Center crowd of 20,327, the second-largest crowd to attend an NBA game in Los Angeles.

“Lamar did everything he was supposed to do. I think he got fouled,” Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said. “The officials didn’t see it that way, but Lamar did his job.”

If there ever was a game in which the Clippers could have pulled off an upset, Saturday’s was it. With Bryant getting ejected for the first time in his career late in the third quarter for complaining about fouls not being called and with O’Neal picking up his sixth foul with 1:27 remaining in the fourth, the Clippers were in great position to defeat the Lakers for the first time since March 14, 1997.

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O’Neal, who made seven of 18 free throws, led the Lakers with 29 points and 15 rebounds. But in defeating the Clippers for the third time this season, the Lakers received a solid team effort. Six players scored at least 13 points, with Bryant recording all 17 of his points in the first half.

In overtime, it was Horry who really carried the load, just as he did earlier this month in a victory over Toronto. After scoring only four points in regulation, Horry had nine in the five-minute period. Brian Shaw and Grant were the only other players to score in overtime for the Lakers, who outrebounded the Clippers, 5-2, in the extra time.

“It was a lost opportunity. We thought when Kobe and Shaq went out that we had a good chance, but they still had guys who can step up,” said the Clippers’ Sean Rooks, a former Laker. “Everybody is always trying to remind us that we are the Clippers of old; well, we are not. When people start realizing that we are a team on the upswing, we’ll start getting some of those calls.”

Less than two minutes into the game, the Clippers’ chances appeared to improve dramatically when center Michael Olowokandi was able to pick up two quick fouls on O’Neal.

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Laker Coach Phil Jackson, however, is not a man to panic. So he kept O’Neal in the game and the dominant big man played the rest of the half without picking up another foul.

Even with O’Neal in the game, the Laker offense revolved around Bryant, who got off to a fast start against Clipper rookie Quentin Richardson. Bryant seemed to shoot the ball every time he touched it because the Clippers simply did not have an answer for him. Corey Maggette played him tough, but Bryant still scored and had an easier time against Eric Piatkowski.

Despite the scoring of Bryant and O’Neal, who had 11 in the first half, the Clippers trailed by only three points at halftime and the Lakers needed a three-point basket from Shaw at the buzzer to build that margin.

It was in the third quarter when Bryant cried a little too much about the officiating and got himself tossed. Bryant, who picked up his first technical for complaining, missed his first three shots of the second half and then ripped into official Rashan Michel for not calling a foul on Piatkowski.

With Bryant in the locker room, the Lakers turned to O’Neal and he responded to help the Lakers take a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Clippers were led by Piatkowski, who had 27 points off the bench. Odom, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, struggled much of the game and finished with 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

Darius Miles had his second consecutive double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. as the Clipper reserves outscored their Laker counterparts, 78-32.

“It was a great night for the fans,” Jackson said. “We had pretty good control of the game. Piatkowski hit that three, Kobe got ejected, and you had a game on your hands.”

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