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Shaq offsets Kobe as Suns top Lakers

SHAQUILLE O'Neal is punishing interior defenders again. Whether he can lead the Phoenix Suns into the playoffs, though, remains anybody's guess.

O'Neal followed a 45-point performance against Toronto by scoring 33 against former teammate Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, leading the Suns to a 118-111 victory.

O'Neal, who turns 37 on Friday, won't call it a comeback. He says he never left ?? that he'd only been slowed by injury. Regardless, he hasn't had consecutive games like this in five years.

"Everyone doubts him, but we don't doubt him," said the Suns' Matt Barnes. "We know he can still carry a team."

O'Neal and the rest of the Suns withstood a 49-point performance by Bryant to beat Los Angeles for the first time in four tries this season. The Lakers, still with the best record in the National Basketball Association, have lost two in a row for only the third time this season.

Pau Gasol added 30 for Los Angeles.

"We're going through a period right now where everybody's just kind of tired," Bryant said.

"It's that point in the season where we kind of hit it. The key for us is to snap out of it."

Despite going 6-2 since Alvin Gentry took over from the fired Terry Porter, Phoenix still trails Dallas by two games for the final playoff berth in the West. There is a crowd just above Dallas, with the Suns only 3 1/2 behind Houston for the No. 4 spot.

"It was a big win against the best team in the West," O'Neal said, "and now we have a tough road trip and we need to see if we can keep it going."

The Suns, without Steve Nash for the third game in a row because of a sprained right ankle, open a four-game, six-day road trip at Orlando tomorrow.

After his big game on Friday night, O'Neal has consecutive 30-point games for the first time since March 5-7, 2004. He's only the fourth player over 35 in NBA history to score at least 33 points in consecutive games; the others are Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Alex English.

"It's what I do," O'Neal said. "I've been doing it since 1992. If you don't believe it, Google me."

In other NBA games, it was: Pistons 105, Celtics 95; Hornets 99, Nets 96; Rockets 105, Timberwolves 94; Pacers 100, Nuggets 94; Trail Blazers 102, Spurs 84; Cavaliers 88, Hawks 87; Mavericks 109, Raptors 98; and Jazz 112, Warriors 104.

In Phoenix, Arizona, Bryant made 18 of a season-high 38 attempts in the 96th 40-point game of his career. He scored 17 points in a span of less than four minutes early in the second half.

Bryant had a tooth knocked out of place when he was hit in the mouth in the third quarter.

Barnes added 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists and Leandro Barbosa had 22 points as the Suns avenged a 26-point loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Thursday.


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