No sidekick to O'Neal: L.A.'s Bryant nets 56

Minus suspended star, guard rises, sits out 4th

Pro Basketball

January 15, 2002|By LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

LOS ANGELES - By the taut look on his face, by the taut tone in his voice, it seemed no one took Shaquille O'Neal's suspension harder than Kobe Bryant. And no one did more last night to lift up the Los Angeles Lakers and make them whole again.

O'Neal served the first night of a three-game suspension for taking a swing at Chicago's Brad Miller two nights earlier. It was nothing compared to the assault Bryant launched against the Memphis Grizzlies in front of a sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center.

Bryant scored a career-high 56 points in three quarters of work, and the Lakers cruised to their biggest rout of the season, a 120-81 demolition of the Grizzlies.

All while their most dominating player served his NBA sentence at home.

"This game," Bryant said, "was for him."

Bryant, 23, staked the Lakers to a 39-point lead before he went to the bench. The best scoring night of his career looked like this: 21-for-34 from the field, 3-for-6 from three-point range, 11-for-12 from the foul line.

Bryant, playing with O'Neal's No. 34 scrawled in black ink on the side of both shoes, had the most points in an NBA game despite playing 34 minutes.

Bryant's previous career high was 51 points at Golden State on Dec. 5, 2000, and the previous NBA best this season was 53 by San Antonio's Tim Duncan in a 126-123 overtime loss to Dallas on Dec. 26.

"This is terrific," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "I haven't seen him any better than he was tonight."

There wasn't a clear indication Bryant planned such a performance. But before tip-off, Bryant was angry and defiant at the news of O'Neal's suspension.

O'Neal's swing on Saturday barely missed the head of Miller, the Bulls' starting center. The two ended up in a heap by the Bulls' bench as a melee ensued with less than three minutes left in a game the Bulls' won in overtime.

"I ain't a punk and I ain't a whiner," O'Neal said yesterday morning. "I got nothing to say."

The NBA also suspended Miller for one game for committing the flagrant foul that led to the fight. Charles Oakley was suspended for two games - one for his flagrant foul against O'Neal, simultaneous with Miller's; the other for accumulating too many flagrant-foul points.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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