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DESCRIPTION:february 21, 2008
Kobe Bryant spoiled Shaquille O'Neal's debut with Phoenix. The Suns believe with the big guy just getting started, there are better days ahead.
Bryant, despite his dislocated right pinkie, scored 41 points to help the Lakers to an intense 130-124 victory over Phoenix on Wednesday night.
Lakers newcomer Pau Gasol added 29, including a breakaway dunk that put Los Angeles up 123-117 with 1:15 to play. Lamar Odom added 22 for the Lakers, who won their sixth in a row to move into a tie with Phoenix atop the Pacific Division.
O'Neal scored nine of his 15 points in the final quarter and grabbed nine rebounds in 29 minutes against his old team in his first game in nearly a month.
"I'm in better shape than I thought I was," he said, "the adrenaline factor and just being out there with the guys."
O'Neal came to the Suns a week ago in a trade that sent Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami. O'Neal played for the Lakers from 1996 through 2004.
"He did seem to get stronger as the game went on, which is incredible," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I did really think he'd run out of steam sometime in the second half, and he really didn't. Him not being used to anything that we do - 124 points - I didn't think we could put that many up, just starting out."
Amare Stoudemire had 37 points and 15 rebounds for Phoenix. Steve Nash added 26 points and eight assists, and Leandro Barbosa and Grant Hill each had 17 points.
"I think everyone was excited for the game and to lose is difficult," Nash said, "but I think if you take a step back, it's encouraging. I thought Shaquille was great, and I think the possibilities are very exciting."
The Lakers improved to 3-1 against the Suns, clinching the season series and knocking Phoenix out of a virtual tie with New Orleans for the best record in the West.
"The really important part of this is the season series," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "We now have an advantage if this is going to be a tight race as it's been. That's all you get out of a game like that: momentum, obviously, and some confidence for our team."
Bryant moved past David Robinson into 27th on the NBA's career scoring list.
"It was a familiar energy in the building," he said. "It felt like a playoff-type of environment. It was fun to be a part of."
O'Neal's debut came against the team he led to three NBA titles, and the Lakers were in control most of the way.
Los Angeles led by as many as 13 in the first half and was up 65-57 at the break.
Phoenix finally caught the Lakers when O'Neal forced a turnover, then scored on a short hook to make it 87-87 with 2:31 left in the period. Gasol's hook shot at the buzzer gave Los Angeles a 95-91 lead entering the fourth.
After Bryant's layup made it 105-97, D.J. Strawberry twice passed to Barbosa for breakaway layups, then drew an offensive foul against Bryant. Stoudemire followed with a three-point play and Phoenix led for the first time since the early minutes, 107-106 with 7:26 remaining.
EDITED BY BRUCE BLITZ