- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

LOS ANGELES The Los Angeles Lakers didn't shoot very well, and their rebounding wasn't so hot, either.
The two-time defending champions relied on savvy and defense as they began their quest for a three-peat.
Kobe Bryant scored 34 points despite shooting only 10 of 28, and Shaquille O'Neal had 25 points and nine rebounds yesterday to lead the Lakers to a 95-87 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Lakers, attempting to become the fifth team in NBA history to win three or more consecutive championships, used a 14-3 run early in the fourth quarter to take command in winning for the 17th time in 18 playoff games dating back to the last game of the 2000 NBA Finals.
"We've been waiting on this moment for so long that we have our little jitters," said Robert Horry, who played 30 solid minutes despite the recent discovery of bleeding beneath his abdomen. "By the second half, though, we got them out, so we're cool now and ready to roll."
The Lakers went 58-24 during a regular season O'Neal called dismal a day before the playoffs started, but that's of little consequence now; the magic number is 15 the number of victories required to win another title.
Game 2 in the best-of-5 matchup will be Thursday night before the series shifts to Portland.
Derek Fisher added 12 points for the Lakers. Horry had only four points and four rebounds, but his defense played a significant role in Portland's 30-for-82 shooting performance (36.6 percent).
The Lakers made just 32 of 75 shots (42.7 percent) and were outrebounded 44-41 but won anyway.
"It was a very physical game. We kept our composure," O'Neal said. "They were doubling and tripling me. We just have to move the ball, and other guys just have to step up and make shots, just take the high-percentage shots."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said his team had a difficult time getting the ball to O'Neal early in the game.
"But we found a remedy to that," Jackson said. "They hung with us the whole game. We kept them shooting from the outside in the second half."
And with little success. Bonzi Wells and Damon Stoudamire, Portland's starting guards, shot 4-for-12 and 1-for-8, respectively.
Rasheed Wallace led the Blazers with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Derek Anderson came off the bench to score a playoff career-best 22 points. Ruben Patterson, another reserve, added 13 points and Scottie Pippen had 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
"The game was there to win, even with the runs they had," Stoudamire said. "We just couldn't knock down those shots."
A basket by Wallace and a three-point play by Anderson in the opening 44 seconds of the fourth quarter moved the Blazers within one point.
But a three-point play by Fisher triggered the decisive run that made it 82-70 with 8:04 left. Bryant capped the spurt with a jumper, snapping a personal streak of eight straight misses.
The Blazers got within six before Bryant turned a pretty reverse layup into a three-point play with 5:07 remaining, prompting the sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center to chant, "Ko-be, Ko-be."
The Blazers didn't pose a serious threat after that.
"It took a while for us to get adjusted to what we had to do, to get in the rhythm and know how to get them under control somewhat," Bryant said. "We played extremely well defensively."
The Lakers are trying to eliminate the Blazers from the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. The teams also met in the first round in 1997, 1998 and last year, and in the Western Conference finals two years ago.
The Lakers went ahead for good by scoring nine straight points six by Bryant for a 59-50 lead with 7:19 left in the third quarter. It was 68-62 entering the final period.
"There's a reason they are the world champs; they stepped up in the second half," Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "We didn't keep the pressure on them as much as I would like. I think we'll work on that the next two days."
Devean George's 3-pointer nearly five minutes into the second quarter put the Lakers ahead for the first time, and they led 46-44 at halftime.
Patterson, the self-proclaimed "Kobe Stopper," checked into the game with the Blazers leading 18-11, and Bryant promptly hit two 3-pointers and another jumper, giving him 12 of the Lakers' 19 points.
A 3-pointer by Wallace gave him 12 and his team a 23-19 lead entering the second quarter.
Notes
Jackson's playoff record of 142-50 is the best ever percentage-wise. His win total ranks second behind former Lakers coach Pat Riley and his eight championships are also second, one behind Boston's Red Auerbach. As is his custom, Jackson wore one of his 10 championship rings. Jackson, who doesn't wear one except during the playoffs, also won one as an assistant coach and one as a player. The win was the 16th straight for the Lakers at Staples Center, where they haven't lost since Feb. 19. The Blazers have a 13-11 regular-season record against the Lakers in last six seasons, but the Lakers are 14-5 in playoff games between the teams during that time. Pippen, a member of the six championship teams coached by Jackson in Chicago, played in his 202nd postseason game. He ranks second behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played in 237. The Blazers are in the playoffs for the 20th straight year the second-longest such streak in NBA history.



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