Rivals meet, don't greet in L.A.


LOS ANGELES - The Corvette survived the brick wall, a nice and tidy Lakers memory for another day, but Los Angeles couldn't survive the most hyped regular-season game of this season, if not all others, providing a more lasting snapshot of the first meeting between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

With a phalanx of TV cameras and reporters on hand to catalog all that would happen, including the slightest sign of love or hate between the former-teammates-turned-rivals, Bryant scored a season-high 42 points and enticed O'Neal into fouling out, but the Miami Heat won in overtime, 104-102, before 18,997 yesterday at Staples Center.

Bryant missed his last five shots, including the potential game-winner, a three-point attempt over Dwyane Wade at the buzzer in overtime. The shot hit the left side of the rim and bounced away, the Heat won its team-record-tying 11th consecutive game, and O'Neal's old team fell to 14-12, entrenched in a win-lose-win-lose path.

"I didn't get the balance that I would have liked on the shot, and as a consequence, the shot went left," Bryant said.

O'Neal, standing in front of the Miami bench as the play unfolded in front of him, showed no emotion after the miss. He clapped four times and walked onto the court. The only Laker he talked to was forward Lamar Odom. Bryant went directly to the Lakers' locker room.

"I knew that it wasn't going to go in," O'Neal said. "It's called 'Shaq O'Neal fate.'"

Hours before, as cameras clicked and fans stood for the best view possible, there wasn't as much of a pre-game handshake as a half-hug. Bryant appeared to want to say a word or two, while O'Neal favored quick physical contact, wrapping half an arm around Bryant's back, nothing more.

"Being married, I don't want interplay or foreplay with another guy," O'Neal said later, smiling.

The Lakers set a team record by attempting 36 three-pointers. They made 14.

Bryant had nine turnovers, one more than the Heat had as a team, and made 12 of 30 shots. O'Neal had 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting and had 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter.

Bryant, whether Corvette or Lamborghini or Hummer, went at the self-proclaimed brick wall five different times, with mostly successful endings for Bryant.

The initial advantage went to O'Neal, who blocked Bryant's shot off a drive 20 seconds into the game. Bryant fared better on his next effort, hitting a 7-footer over O'Neal off a drive 22 seconds later.

"I backed the Hummer out of the garage and went straight to the bucket," Bryant said.

They didn't come into contact again until the first minute of the second quarter. Bryant found a path to the basket and O'Neal, realizing who it was, closed in from the other side and briefly staggered Bryant with a stiff, but fair, foul.

O'Neal walked away and winked. Bryant hit both free throws.

They had meaningful meetings two more times, both in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Bryant got the ball in the key and beat O'Neal with a crossover, drawing a fifth foul from O'Neal with 4:04 left in the quarter. Bryant then ended O'Neal's afternoon by driving to the basket and drawing O'Neal's sixth foul. Bryant made both free throws to give the Lakers a 93-91 lead.

"I felt that I had let my team down," O'Neal said. "All day, I was saying to myself, no layups and no dunks. I kind of forgot I had five [fouls] at that point.

No layups and dunks for everybody? "Basically everybody, but especially, you know, him."

Wade, who had 29 points, had two chances in the final minute to break a 94-94 tie, but he missed an 18-footer with 23 seconds left, and, after Christian Laettner kept the possession alive by tapping the rebound back out top, Wade missed a 20-footer at the buzzer.

O'Neal mused afterward that he knew he would get help from his teammates - "I play with a lot of unselfish guys," he said - on a day where he was shadowed from the time he set foot on the Staples Center loading dock.

"The arena that I built," O'Neal said twice to a horde of TV cameras as he walked through the corridors under the arena.

Afterward, Bryant said he'd seen and heard enough of the Shaq-Kobe hype.

"Hopefully this is all behind us now," he said. "I think everybody's kind of got the first game out of their system and now we can just move on and talk about basketball."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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