Saturday , Apr , 03 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Scorching Lakers take over top spot in Western Conference

Seattle, WA (Sports Network) – Kobe Bryant scored 25 points and Shaquille
O’Neal added 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the red-hot Los Angeles
Lakers to a 97-86 win over Seattle at KeyArena.

Gary Payton netted 17 points and Karl Malone added 14 points and eight boards
for the Lakers, who have won 11 straight games and took over sole possession
for the top spot in the Western Conference. Los Angeles leads both Minnesota
and Sacramento for the top spot in the conference.

“We are trying to win as many games as we can,” said O’Neal. “For for a lot of
guys on this team, it’s important to win first place.”

Ray Allen poured in a game-high 30 points and handed out seven assists for the
SuperSonics, who have dropped four straight contests. Rashard Lewis chipped in
25 in the setback.

Los Angeles made a blazing 56 percent of its shots (39-of-70), while the
Sonics hit on 34-of-76 field-goal attempts (45 percent).

Seattle led 13-9 midway through the first quarter and increased its advantage
to eight points at 25-17 after one.

The Lakers came right back as they began the second period on a 14-0 run,
keyed by five from Devean George and four from O’Neal, to claim a 31-25 lead
with just under nine minutes left in the quarter.

The Sonics, though, countered with a 15-7 spurt to forge ahead 40-38. The rest
of the half remained tight and Seattle led 51-47 at halftime.

Allen scored 18 points, while O’Neal had 10 for the Lakers in the opening 24
minutes.

In the third, Seattle led 60-59, but the Lakers then used a 6-0 run to grab a
five-point edge midway through the quarter. Los Angeles led 77-70 after three
periods.

The Sonics closed within 79-75 on Lewis’ dunk with 7:01 left in the game, but
Los Angeles stretched the cushion to 86-77 on Payton’s three-pointer just
over three minutes later.

The cushion grew to 91-78 moments later on Malone’s dunk and Seattle never
threatened again.

LAL SEA