SEATTLE (AP) -- Nothing can slow the Lakers' streak right now -- not even Shaquille O'Neal acting like a very large worm.
O'Neal had 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Los Angeles beat the Seattle SuperSonics 97-86 on Friday night to run its winning streak to 11 games and
take the Western Conference lead.
He got the laugh of the night when he chased a loose ball and survived a leap into press row with 2:55 remaining. O'Neal's huge feet broke one
writer's laptop computer, and the Big Fella got stuck when he tried to get out.
O'Neal flopped onto his belly and crawled about 20 feet to escape.
"He just wanted to do it in dramatic fashion," teammate Gary Payton explained.
Kobe Bryant scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to help the Lakers move a half-game ahead of Sacramento and Minnesota for the top spot in
the Western Conference.
"Our motivation all along in the second half of the season was just to get better, to re-establish our rhythm and gain some momentum heading into the
playoffs," Bryant said.
"In the process of doing that, we've put ourselves atop the Western Conference, but it's important not to lose sight of what our original intentions
Ray Allen scored 30 points, and Rashard Lewis had 25 for Seattle, but it wasn't enough to keep the Sonics from losing their fourth straight. Brent
Barry had 10 points and 11 assists, and Reggie Evans had 14 rebounds.
Karl Malone added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Lakers, and Gary Payton scored 17 in his second game as a visitor in Seattle.
It was close most of the night until Malone, Payton and O'Neal scored the last seven points of the third quarter to put the Lakers up 77-70. Bryant
hit two jumpers and a 3-pointer as the Lakers raced away in the fourth.
"We just didn't establish ourselves early enough to make this the type of game that we needed," Seattle's Brent Barry said. "At the end of the third
quarter, they had a seven-point lead, and that seemed to give them a little breathing room."
The Lakers are an NBA best 22-4 since the All-Star break and they won on the road despite an early morning arrival that could have worn them down one
night after a home win against Houston.
The Sonics kept it close despite playing without Vladimir Radmanovic, who went on the injured list earlier Friday, and Jerome James, who has been on
the injured list since Tuesday.
"I think the first team did a pretty good job, but normally we come in with Radmanovic and Jerome James," Seattle coach Nate McMillan said. "We were
limited with offensive weapons on the bench tonight."
Without him, McMillan used a smaller lineup, a strategy that appeared to backfire when the Lakers scored the first 14 points of the second quarter to
take 31-25 lead.
Allen and Lewis, though, started hitting from the floor and the Sonics got a lift from reserve Ansu Sesay.
Seattle closed with a 26-16 run over the last 8:18 of the first half and led 51-47 at the break.
Notes: With the loss, the Sonics are assured of consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1985-86 and 1986-87 ... O'Neal blocked one shot,
leaving him one short of 10th place on the NBA's career list. ... Payton, who spent 13 seasons with the Sonics, received a big cheer during pre-game
introductions. He jogged to the Sonics' bench and shook hands with McMillan, his former teammate and coach.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.