Thursday , Apr , 29 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Kobe propels Lakers into second round

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) – Kobe Bryant collected 31 points, 10 assists
and six rebounds, as the Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the second round of
the playoffs with a 97-78 victory over Houston in Game 5 of their Western
Conference quarterfinal series at Staples Center.

Los Angeles captured the best-of-seven set from the Rockets, 4-1, and will now
face the defending champion Spurs in the conference semifinals, with Game 1
scheduled for Sunday in San Antonio.

“Against San Antonio, you can’t beat them by momentum,” said Bryant. “You have
to be calculating. Beat them possession by possession.”

Bryant arrived at the arena in time to start the game after spending the day
in an Eagle, Colorado courtroom for pretrial hearings in his sexual assault
case. The judge in the case set an arraignment date of May 10 for the All-Star
guard to formally enter a plea.

Bryant is accused of sexually assaulting a woman on June 30 at a Colorado
resort, a Class 3 felony with penalties ranging from four years to life in
prison or 20 years to life on probation.

“In the car on the way over, I just felt so tired and I didn’t want to go to
sleep cause you only have 20 minutes to get to the game and if I went to sleep
I would have woken up really sluggish,” said Bryant. “I tried to meditate in
the car on the way over.”

Karl Malone contributed 18 points, nine boards and five assists for the
Lakers, who improved to 29-2 all-time in first-round matchups. Shaquille
O’Neal netted 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the win.

Los Angeles head coach Phil Jackson has never lost in the opening round of the
playoffs (14-0).

Jim Jackson paced Houston with 17 points. Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis
chipped in 16 points apiece for the Rockets, who have not won a playoff series
since 1997, when they ousted the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games in the
Western Conference semifinals. Francis also had nine boards and five assists.

“It’s real tough,” said Francis. “The reality of it is there were games that
we so called had late in the game which we unfortunately lost. To me, it
didn’t seem that we could bounce back as quickly as we should have been able
to…You’ve got to take your hat off to them and one of their two best players
(Bryant) had a great game despite everything that was going on.”

The Lakers took control in the third quarter, as they outscored Houston 25-9
to grab a 72-57 advantage. The Rockets were just 2-of-16 from the field in the
period, as they suffered their second-lowest output for a quarter in franchise
playoff history.

Two free throws by Francis with 8:18 remaining in the third stanza staked
Houston to a 52-49 lead.

The Lakers then went on a 15-1 burst to take a 64-53 advantage with 2:39 left
in the quarter. Malone scored five points and Bryant added four during the
run.

After Yao Ming sank a pair of free throws for the Rockets, Bryant hit a jumper
and then drained a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 69-55. Mobley then
converted a layup with 49 seconds remaining in the period to end a field goal
drought of over nine minutes for Houston.

“I thought the team came out at the third quarter and played even better
defense and converted on those turnovers and were able to break the game
open,” said Phil Jackson.

The Rockets did not threaten in the fourth quarter and fell behind by as many
as 26 points on several occasions in the period.

Houston used a 10-0 burst in the first quarter, keyed by five points from
Mobley, to take a 17-8 lead.

The Rockets later enjoyed an eight-point lead, but Los Angeles closed the
quarter with a 12-7 spurt to pull within 27-24 after 12 minutes.

After the teams traded baskets to begin the second quarter, Kareem Rush hit a
15-foot jumper to ignite a 5-0 run that gave the Lakers a 31-29 advantage.

The rest of the period was tight. Los Angeles managed to increase its lead to
45-42 on a pair of free throws by Bryant with 2:03 left in the stanza, but the
Rockets received two foul shots from Francis and a basket from Yao to move
back in front.

Houston eventually carried a 48-47 advantage into the locker room. Mobley
ended the first half with 14 points, while Bryant led the Lakers in the
opening 24 minutes with 20, including 14 in the second quarter.

HOU LAL