- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 2002

SACRAMENTO For the past few days, the Sacramento Kings have been proclaiming that they have gotten beyond their fear of the Los Angeles Lakers. They promised that homecourt advantage in their raucous Arco Arena, which they earned by virtue of posting the best record during the regular season, would allow them to overwhelm and eventually knock the Lakers from their perch over the NBA.
But after getting a taste of the Lakers' dynamic duo of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, playing at the top of their games in the same contest for the first time in the 2002 playoffs, the Kings' were brushed aside 106-99 last night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, leaving the once confident Kings stunned and without the homecourt advantage.
Bryant led the Lakers with 30 points, six rebounds and five assists and O'Neal played 42 minutes, dicing through the Kings for 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. The Lakers are actually doing the talking now as they spoke of taking a 2-0 lead before they return home to the Staples Center for the Memorial Day Weekend.
"We know what it takes to win in a hostile environment," said O'Neal as the Lakers extinguished the home crowd's enthusiasm for most of the evening. "We just want to win four games and we wanted to come and get one or two here."
The Lakers jumped on the Kings from the start taking a 36-22 lead after one quarter and right away Lakers coach Phil Jackson noticed a difference between his team and the Kings.
"I thought there was a freedom to our game," Jackson said. "We were just a little more fresh on the court and ready to step into the action right from the beginning."
Said Kings coach Rick Adelman: "They were the aggressor tonight. They got us on our heels early. But I don't think we have any nonbelievers in our locker room."
Chris Webber was spectacular, finishing with 28 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for the Kings. Sacramento also got 21 points off the bench from guard Bobby Jackson, while starting point guard Mike Bibby contributed 19 points.
However, the ankle injury that kept Peja Stojakovic out of last night's game and threatens to keep him out of Game 2 here tomorrow, hurt the Kings. His replacement, Hedo Turkoglu, was zero for eight from the floor and failed to score a point in 29 minutes.
For the Lakers often described as cruising in the regular season the playoffs are starting to look to be too easy for the two-time defending champions. With the victory, they ran their NBA playoff-record road winning streak to 12 games, having eclipsed the former record held jointly by Chicago and Houston (eight) last month.
And the Kings cockiness has to be all but gone: The Lakers have now beaten them in six consecutive playoff games dating back to 2000.
The Lakers have not exactly struggled in going 8-1 through the playoffs, but because of injuries to O'Neal they have not walked through their foes in the same manner they did last year when they skewered the playoff field to the tune of 15-1.
For instance, last season they swept San Antonio in the conference finals 4-0, beating the Spurs by an average of more than 22 points each game. But this year in the semifinals, the Spurs extended the Lakers to five games and in each of the Lakers' victories they came from behind in the fourth quarter
Arco Arena has a reputation for being the loudest arena in the NBA, and the sellout crowd of 17,317 lived up to its billing all night. The fans rattled the stands with foot-stomping and rang those annoying cowbells that have rattled lesser teams this postseason.
But these are the Lakers, a team that clearly knows the value of big games, and the noise seemed nothing more than a little distraction.
With Bryant working his magic early on, the Lakers led by as many as 16 points in the second quarter, and by 58-45 at the half.
Guarded by Doug Christie, easily the Kings' best one-on-one defender, Bryant led all scores with 16 points to go along with four assists.
And when Bryant wasn't hitting baskets his teammates were. The Lakers shot a blistering 54.3 percent from the field in the half compared to Sacramento's 42.6 percent.
In fact, had it not been for Webber notching a double-double by halftime (14 points, 10 boards) the Kings might have been blown out.
Often accused of shooting too many jumpshots in the playoffs and, in general, playing soft, Webber's aggressiveness actually hurt him and his teammates. Webber picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter.
Much of the talk coming out of Sacramento came from center Valde Divac, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds but provided little defensively against O'Neal. It was a Divac quote hyping the Kings' homecourt advantage that particularly ticked off O'Neal.
"They asked for us, we are here," O'Neal said.

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