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Bryant dazzles as Lakers spoil O'Neal's debut

Feb 21, 2008 - 7:26 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- It felt like a playoff atmosphere and Kobe Bryant played like it, spoiling Shaquille O'Neal's debut with the Phoenix Suns.

Bryant poured in 41 points to lead four starters in double figures as the Los Angeles Lakers earned a thrilling 130-124 victory over the Suns on Wednesday night.

The reigning two-time scoring champion notched his 90th career 40-point outburst. Bryant also passed San Antonio great David Robinson for 27th on the all-time scoring list.

"It was a familiar energy in the building. It was like a playoff-type of atmosphere, Bryant said. "We are playing pretty well so naturally our confidence is pretty high."

Pau Gasol netted 29 points and Lamar Odom had 22 and 11 boards for the Lakers, who improved to 3-1 against Phoenix this season.

O'Neal, who was playing for the first time in nearly a month, was acquired from the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks on February 6 with the hopes of putting the Suns over the hump in the loaded Western Conference.

A three-time NBA Finals MVP, O'Neal finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting with nine boards in 29 minutes in his Phoenix debut.

"I am in better shape than I thought I was," O'Neal said. "At first they wanted me to just play a couple of minutes but I told them, 'I am here, I am ready to go.' Steve Nash told me to put my Randy Moss on so I'll try to be the first one down the court and they will hit me.

"This is only our first game playing and we're not really used to each other. When we do get used to each other we will be the most dangerous team ever created."

The trade for O'Neal might have been prompted because of the Lakers' acquisition of Gasol, who came over from the lowly Memphis Grizzlies on February 1 as the centerpiece in a three-player deal.

All-Star Amare Stoudemire dominated the glass in the opening half, grabbing 11 boards to help the Suns hold a 28-20 edge through two quarters. Phoenix outrebounded Los Angeles, 46-33, in the game.

"I thought we got beat on the boards. It's one of the features that the Suns have been vulnerable at but obviously now with Shaq and Stoudemire they are a much better rebounding team and they showed it," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The really important part in this is the season series. We now have an advantage in this is going to be tight race. That is all you get out of game like that momentum and some confidence for our team."

Stoudemire carried the load with 37 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks for the Suns.

"I always have energy but I think playing power forward now allows me to roam a little more on the wing as far as crashing the boards offensively," Stoudemire said. "That's what Shaq allows me to do. I think as a team we are getting used to him but the second half showed what we will be like."

Los Angeles carried an impressive 65-57 edge into the locker room on the shoulders of Bryant, who made 7-of-11 shots en route to 20 first-half points.

In the fourth, Stoudemire put Phoenix ahead, 107-106, after he completed a three-point play with 7:26 left. It was the Suns' first advantage since early in the first period.

But Bryant, who had rookie D.J. Strawberry on him, never worried as he hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and found Gasol for an one-handed fast-break dunk to forge a 115-108 lead at the 5:43 mark.

"We stayed aggressive. We were down one and made a driving layup and that took some of the air out of the building," Bryant said. "I made some big plays down the stretch that I only could make because my teammates are threats now."

Phoenix rallied within two on a pair of free throws by Steve Nash, who had 28 points and eight assists in a losing effort, with 1:49 to go.

However, Odom made tough layup and Bryant hooked up with Gasol again for another fast-break dunk to ice the contest with 1:15 remaining.

"I thought it was a very good game," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I thought they played very well, high intensity and we are still trying to make things up on the run but I think you could see some potential out there. For Shaq and his first time out, it was pretty good."