Sunday , Feb , 29 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Kobe, Lakers set for Jersey showdown

East Rutherford, NJ (Sports Network) – Two of the best and hottest teams in
the NBA square off this evening in New Jersey when the Nets welcome the Los
Angeles Lakers to Continental Airlines Arena.

Los Angeles rebounded from Thursday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, as Kobe
Bryant posted his first triple-double in more than a year, leading the Lakers
to a 122-110 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday at the MCI Center.

Bryant had 25 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists and registered his first
triple-double since January 10, 2003.

Shaquille O’Neal added 29 points as Los Angeles improved to 6-1 in its last
seven games. Stanislav Medvedenko and Kareem Rush had 14 points apiece in a
winning cause.

Bryant and O’Neal have been the catalysts behind LA’s recent surge. In his
seven games since the All-Star break the 25-year-old Bryant is averaging 32.7
points, 8.3 boards, eight assists and 2.4 steals a game. O’Neal, meanwhile,
has scored 24.1 points-a-game and has pulled down 9.3 rebounds in that time.

All is not well in Laker-land, though, as guard Gary Payton has been griping
about playing time. Payton, who had 10 points and seven assists in 34 minutes
on Saturday, signed with LA as a free agent in the offseason.

“I didn’t come here to sit on the bench,” Payton said. “So it’s a problem for
me right now. I’ve been trying to hold it in, but it’s a problem. I want to
play. I don’t know what we’re trying to do. I don’t know what it is. What I’m
trying to do is stay away from controversy, but controversy’s going to come if
I keep sitting on the bench.”

Los Angeles, which will be playing the second leg of a four-game road trip
tonight, has won six of seven and seven of its last nine on the road and is
15-15 away from home this season.

The Lakers have just one loss in 11 Sunday games this season.

New Jersey also enters tonight’s tilt on a winning note after Richard
Jefferson scored 25 points and Kenyon Martin contributed 18 points and 15
boards in the Nets’ 92-86 win over the Miami Heat.

Jefferson had only five field goals in the game, but made 15-of-19 free throw
tries. Jason Kidd managed just three assists, but collected 20 points and
eight boards for New Jersey, which bounced back from a loss to Minnesota on
Wednesday and has won 15 of its last 16 games.

The Nets, who were only 1-of-5 from the charity stripe in the loss to the
Timberwolves, went to the line a season-high 49 times on Saturday and
converted 37 of the attempts.

Leading by three, Dwyane Wade’s attempted driving layup was thwarted by
Martin, who snatched the ball cleanly with both hands. Kerry Kittles was later
fouled with 13.4 seconds remaining and proceeded to hit both tries from the
line to seal it.

“Superman is back in the building with that rebound and block,” said Nets head
coach Lawrence Frank, who is 14-1 since replacing Byron Scott. “Kenyon is a
special guy and really stepped up huge for us in the second half.”

New Jersey, which will hit the road for four games after tonight’s contest,
has won nine in a row and 13 of its last 14 games at home and is 21-8 at the
Meadowlands this season.

The Nets, who were swept by the Lakers in the 2002 NBA Finals, won both
meetings with LA last season and has won three straight in the series. The
Lakers, though, have won 12 of the last 16 matchups, including six of the last
eight in the Garden State.