Shaquille O'Neal scored a season-high 36 points Thursday night, and that suited the Denver Nuggets fine.
"We followed our game plan that was basically, let Shaq beat us," Denver coach Dan Issel said after a 93-82 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. "We really didn't care how many points he got just so that nobody else chimed in."
Nobody else did as the Nuggets stopped a three-game losing streak.
"We didn't get anything from anyone but Shaq tonight," said Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson, who used two timeouts in the first three minutes after a lethargic start. "I came in at halftime concerned and I told the players we weren't hustling to win the game."
Ron Mercer scored 24 points and Nick Van Exel had 23 against his former team. Van Exel, acquired from the Lakers on June 24, 1998, for Tony Battie, was 4-for-8 with two 3-pointers in the final period.
"Any time you play against your former team you want to beat them," Van Exel said. "The trade was fresh on my mind last year. This year I am over it."
Antonio McDyess added 15 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out late in the game for Denver.
Denver took a 69-59 lead into the fourth quarter and extended it to 75-62 with 9:10 left on Van Exel's 3-pointer.
Two short jumpers by O'Neal got the Lakers within 75-66 with 7:45 left, but he missed four straight free throws while Van Exel hit a 3-pointer nd a layup to build the edge to 81-66.
"Getting Shaq in foul trouble in the second half was a factor because he couldn't guard Antonio," Issel said. "They switched him on Raef (LaFrentz) and that was to our advantage because he can't play the pick-and-roll out on the perimeter."
Trailing 42-39 at halftime, Mercer had a three-point play and a dunk as Denver rallied for a 55-41 lead. O'Neal's short jumper with 5:11 left in the quarter halted the momentum briefly, but a layup by McDyess finished a 10-0 run for the Nuggets.
James Posey's 3-pointer at the buzzer after a steal gave Denver a 13-point lead.
O'Neal had 10 points in the second quarter as McDyess sat out most of the period with three fouls.
"They came out ready to play," O'Neal said. "They outhustled us to loose balls and rebounds and shot the ball better."
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