Monday , Apr , 26 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Notebook: Malone comes up big for Lakers

(Sports Network) – The Karl Malone signing paid big dividends for the Los
Angeles Lakers on Sunday, as the 40-year-old forward scored 30 points and
grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Lakers to a 92-88 overtime victory over the
Houston Rockets in Game 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series at
the Toyota Center.

Malone’s performance helped the Lakers take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-
of-seven-series. Game 5 will be played on Wednesday at the Staples Center.

“We played well as a team,” said All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal after
Sunday’s win. “We stuck with it. Karl Malone was definitely the difference in
the game. He played with a lot of energy. They were not really sticking with
him and they were daring him to shoot. He played a hell of a game today.”

O’Neal finished with 17 points and 12 boards in Sunday’s victory, while Kobe
Bryant scored six of his 18 points in overtime for the Lakers.

The Rockets decided to let the 19-year veteran Malone beat them if he could,
and that is just what the future Hall-of-Famer did in Game 3. He played 47
minutes and made 11-of-17 of his shot attempts from the field and was 8-of-11
from the foul line.

“We don’t get caught up in the physical part of the game, we just come out and
play,” said Malone. “The most important thing is you have to hold your ground
within the rules. It’s just one of those things, you just have to come out and
play, it’s the playoffs and it is more physical but I don’t get caught up in
it. It was one of those days and it just happened like that. This wasn’t just
one guy. This was a great team win. We scored just 12 points in the fourth and
coach (Phil Jackson) wasn’t too happy with that.”

Malone was second on the Lakers in field-goal attempts on Sunday, as Bryant
put up 21 shots and O’Neal got off just 10 attempts. The Lakers can win even
if Bryant and O’Neal aren’t their top two scorers. But, is that something that
LA wants to have to deal with again?

“That’s an adjustment they (Rockets) have to show us in Game 5, said Lakers’
head coach Phil Jackson regarding Malone being used as his main scoring
option.

Veteran Gary Payton, who along with Malone signed with LA as free agents last
offseason, had a solid game on Sunday. He scored 13 points and dished out
seven assists in 45 minutes of action.

“Karl and I got really animated and that is just the way we play,” said
Payton. “We’ve been playing like that lately and that got us into the game.
That is just what I want to do is to play and try to be productive and get
things done and get this over with. Today I got to be out there (in the fourth
quarter). We are trying to win a championship here and let’s not make problems
and let’s just play.”

Malone, who missed a career-high 40 games during the regular season because of
a knee injury, has averaged 18 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in the first
three contests of the series. The former Utah Jazz averaged a career-low
13.2 points to go along with 8.7 boards during the regular season.

Even though Malone had a tough year, he still did not feel this was his best
game in a Lakers’ uniform.

“Not really,” said Malone. “I think I have played better defense and I know
what they are telling me to do so I don’t really get caught up in that, it’s
just one of the things that happened. As a team, it’s more satisfaction for me
to get a win and stay within what we are trying to do instead of getting
caught up in the stats. I’m looking for wins and that is the only stat I
want.”

Malone, who has played over 40 minutes per game in the first four contests of
the series against Houston, has indicated that he just wants to win a ring.
His performance on Sunday showed that he is not kidding.

HOU LAL