Lakers 92, Knicks 85
NEW YORK (AP) _ Shaquille O’Neal was unstoppable again, scoring 43 points to close in on Allen Iverson in the NBA scoring race as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks 92-85 Sunday.
Scoring only six points on dunks, O’Neal displayed a variety of low-post moves as he had his second-highest point total of the season and reached 40 points for the third time in four games.
O’Neal finished 18-for-31 from the field and 7 of 13 from the line with 10 rebounds and three assists as the Lakers won for the 21st time in 22 games. The Knicks had won four in a row.
O’Neal raised his scoring average from 28.8 to 29.0, leaving him two-tenths of a point behind Iverson heading into Philadelphia’s game against Orlando on Sunday night.
Defense was almost as big of a factor for the Lakers as O’Neal’s offense. Los Angeles shut down the Knicks in the third quarter, holding them to 14 points, to take the lead for good. The Lakers also forced every New York starter except Charlie Ward to miss more than half his shots.
Kobe Bryant added 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers, who improved the NBA’s best record to 55-12.
Allan Houston scored 20 to lead the Knicks.
O’Neal missed three straight free throws that would have given him 40 points midway through the fourth quarter, and the Knicks followed with their final push _ a 6-1 run that cut their deficit to 87-72 with 4:57 left.
O’Neal answered with two free throws, Patrick Ewing misfired on a jumper __ one of his 14 misses from the field in 20 attempts _ and Bryant hit a 27-foot 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to give Los Angeles an 11-point lead with just under four minutes left.
O’Neal scored his final points on an alley-oop dunk with 50 seconds left. He had a career-high 61 points March 6 against the Clippers.
O’Neal scored the Lakers’ final 10 points of the first quarter on a variety of inside moves, taking advantage as the Knicks single-covered him with Ewing or Kurt Thomas _ neither of whom could keep the 7-footer from establishing position near the basket.
O’Neal reached 20 points less than 3 1/2 minutes into the second quarter, converting a line drive jump hook for a 29-25 lead, and by halftime he had 24 points although the Lakers trailed 44-43.
The Shaq Show kept up in the third quarter, and the Lakers started to pull away as New York could find no one who could get things going offensively. O’Neal reached 30 points on a short shot with six minutes left in the third quarter for a 56-49 lead, and O’Neal finally took his first rest of the game with 3:53 left in the third and Los Angeles ahead by five.
O’Neal returned two minutes later and made two baskets and a free throw over the rest of the period, and Bryant drove through two defenders for a short bank shot at the buzzer that gave then Lakers a 69-58 lead entering the fourth.
Notes: Coaches Phil Jackson of Los Angeles and Jeff Van Gundy of New York both opted to have a boom mike lowered into their huddles rather than wear a clip-on wireless microphone for the NBC telecast. All coaches were given that option Tuesday following an outcry over the NBA issuing $100,000 fines to teams whose coaches refused to be miked. ... The Lakers conclude their five-game road trip in Miami on Monday night, bringing in an 18-1 record and 12-game winning streak on the second day of back-to-back games. ... The Lakers are only Pacific Division team to win at Madison Square Garden this season. ... Los Angeles improved to 24-3 vs. teams from the East, including 12-2 on the road.