Friday , Apr , 02 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Surging Lakers move into tie for West top spot

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) – Kobe Bryant poured in 26 points and Karl
Malone posted 20 points and 14 rebounds, as the Los Angeles Lakers moved into
a tie for the top spot in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference
with a 93-85 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Staples Center.

Shaquille O’Neal added 18 points for the Lakers, who won their 10th straight
game. Gary Payton finished with 12 points and a season-high 13 rebounds in the
victory. Coupled with the Dallas victory over Sacramento earlier Thursday, the
Lakers and Kings are both 52-23 on the season with seven games remaining.

“We are proud of ourselves,” said Bryant of his team’s recent climb in the
standings. “We were able to climb a huge hill in the beginning of the season,
and now with seven games left, things are looking pretty good.”

Cuttino Mobley led the way for the Rockets with 26 points. Steve Francis
contributed 17 points and eight assists for Houston, which has dropped three
of its last four games. Despite the setback, the Rockets remained comfortably
in seventh place in the West.

Jim Jackson recorded a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds in the
loss. Yao Ming, meanwhile, was held to just six points and eight rebounds. He
was just 3-of-15 from the field.

“I just tried to stay with him and put a body on him,” O’Neal said of Yao.
“He missed some shots tonight.”

The contest was tight midway through the fourth quarter, but the Lakers
started to wear down their opponents and eventually took over. After Mobley’s
layup brought Houston within one at 70-69, Los Angeles went on a 10-2 run to
open an 80-71 lead with under five minutes remaining. Payton put home four
points and Bryant, O’Neal and Malone each added a basket.

The Rockets cut the deficit to as little as four when Maurice Taylor connected
on a jumper to make it 85-81, but the Lakers hit key foul shots down the
stretch and held on for the eight-point victory.

“We executed down the stretch, made some stops and did what we needed to do,”
said Malone.

Los Angeles, which shot just 38 percent (29-of-77) from the field, improved to
32-5 at home in 2003-04.

The Lakers hit 30-of-42 free throws and held a 58-35 rebounding advantage. The
Rockets were 13-of-16 from the stripe.

After trailing by five, 23-18, entering the second quarter, the Lakers used a
12-6 run to grab a 30-29 lead midway through the frame. The burst was
highlighted by six points from Bryant and capped by a Payton jumper.

From that point, LA outscored the visitors 17-11 and closed out the half
holding onto a 47-40 lead.

Following the break, it was the Rockets who took charge. Three straight Mobley
buckets, including a three-pointer, and a jumper by Francis put the finishing
touches on a 19-7 run which saw the Rockets move ahead 59-54 with over five
minutes to go in the third period.

The remainder of the quarter was tight, but the Lakers eventually went ahead
and led 67-66 after 36 minutes of action.

The Lakers also won 10 in a row earlier this season from November 19 to
December 9.