Shaq Back, Lakers Win

Shaquille O'Neal was back, and the Los Angeles Lakers played extremely well for three quarters before allowing the Atlanta Hawks back into the game.

O'Neal, returning from a one-game suspension, had 23 points and 11 rebounds as the Lakers led by as many as 27 in the third quarter, then had to hold on for a 93-88 win Sunday night.

"The first half was a great-looking half," O'Neal said, referring to the Lakers' 57-35 lead. "Then I think we were just trying to protect our lead rather than just play.

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  • "We were just taking the shots that their defense was giving us and we were playing tentatively."

    The Lakers led 69-42 midway through the third period, but the Hawks, down 77-57 to start the final quarter, rallied within 91-88 with 25 seconds left.

    Isaiah Rider, who led Atlanta with 24 points, missed a 3-point shot with 10 seconds remaining. Derek Fisher got the rebound for the Lakers, was fouled and made two free throws for the final margin.

    "I never really feared blowing a lead that large, but I was disappointed that we couldn't go ahead and take care of business," Fisher said of the Lakers' failure to put the Hawks away. "That's been an Achilles' heel of ours, and we have to figure out a way to get more of a businesslike approach to it."

    Going against the Hawks' Dikembe Mutombo, one of the better defensive centers in the league, O'Neal went 11-of-23 from the field. He made only one of seven free throws including an airball and drew a loud cheer from the crowd of 18,510 when he finally hit one after five straight misses.

    The Los Angeles center was suspended for Friday night's game against Houston because of a ight two nights earlier with the Rockets' Charles Barkley.

    The Hawks have won just once in six games this season and are 0-5 on the road. Los Angeles is 6-2, with the only losses coming to Houston and Portland.

    Fisher scored 20 points for the Lakers. Alan Henderson had 14 points for Atlanta, and Mutombo added 12 points and 15 rebounds.

    Rider complained last Wednesday that he wasn't being used properly for what he does best score and said, "Make me the man or get me out of here." On Sunday, he was the man, at least while he was scoring 11 fourth-quarter points.

    Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens said of Rider, who came to the Hawks from Portland during the offseason: "He's going to be a big part of our offense, but he's got to play the game. We've got so many new people that they have to learn to play together."

    Los Angeles was up 35-21 after one quarter and seemed in control until the Hawks' fourth-quarter rally. They outscored the Lakers 31-16 in the period.


  • Without O'Neal against Houston on Friday, the Lakers shot 33.7 percent from the floor and were porous up the middle on defense. They shot 42 percent against Atlanta and held the Hawks to 39 percent shooting.
  • The Lakers and Hawks did not play last season because of the lockout-shortened schedule.
  • Among those at courtside was Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
  • The main scoreboard in the new Staples Center did not work during part of the first half.

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