Faced with an elimination game way before anyone had ever imagined, the Los Angeles Lakers never were in danger of choking away their season last night.
With Shaquille O'Neal giving an Most Valuable Player-like performance, the Lakers played like the same juggernaut everyone saw in the regular season and all other remaining playoff teams fear.
By blowing out the Kings, 113-86, in Game5 of their first-round series, the Lakers advanced to meet Phoenix in the conference semis, with the opener on tomorrow here at Staples Center. They were 4-0 during the regular season versus Phoenix, en route to a league-best 67 wins.
From the opening period on, there was never an issue where the Lakers were headed. They weren't about to go down in NBA history the wrong way. Scoring almost at will, they built a 35-point lead early in the fourth after going up by 27 late in the third.
O'Neal, who had 28points and 18rebounds through three periods, finished with 32points and 18boards. Kobe Bryant added 17 points and six assists. Even the Lakers' bench, outplayed in L.A.'s two losses in Sacramento, produced big numbers. Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Rick Fox combined for 25 points.
"I was kind of hard on myself after the two losses in Sacramento," O'Neal said. "But my dad reminded me that I always play bad in Sacramento. We had the home-court advantage. All we had to do was win at home. We didn't need to win on the road.
"I don't believe in pressure. Pressure is not knowing where your next meal is coming from."
After Jason Williams' three-pointer, the Kings' sixth, reduced L.A.'s lead to 14 midway through the third quarter, the Lakers went on a 19-5 run to put this one away.