Lakers 109, Suns 97

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) – For one of the few times this season, the Los Angeles Lakers bore a close resemblance to their NBA championship teams of the last three years.

And they did it for a full game.

Shaquille O’Neal had 36 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots and the Lakers led nearly all the way in beating the Phoenix Suns 109-97 Sunday night for only their fifth victory over a team with a winning record.

Kobe Bryant had 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and Rick Fox added 11 points and eight assists for Lakers (14-20), who lost to the Suns 107-93 in Phoenix on Saturday night.

“They played like the Lakers tonight,” Suns star Stephon Marbury said.

“It felt great,” Lakers forward Robert Horry said. “We won every quarter. That’s something we haven’t done this season.”

Bryant scored the Lakers’ first nine points of the fourth quarter before O’Neal’s basket put Los Angeles ahead 88-77 with 8:18 remaining.

The Suns didn’t get closer than seven points after that.

The Lakers shot 52.4 percent and outrebounded the Suns 53-37 in winning for the third time in four games.

“It was a good win against a quality team – a very good defensive ballclub,” Bryant said. “This is a big month for us. The challenge is right here for us. Everybody’s just excited about this opportunity we have right now — to make history.”

O’Neal left without speaking to reporters, as he has done for the past month following games, but he made a statement on the court with perhaps his finest all-around game this season.

“They made shots but Shaq was just a monster tonight,” Marbury said.

“He is getting in better and better shape as we go along and tonight it also helped that other guys hit shots on the perimeter,” Lakers guard Brian Shaw said. “When he is as dominant as he was tonight, it’s going to make it easier for everyone else, especially when you have him and Kobe playing at the level they did.”

O’Neal made 15-of-19 shots and was as active on defense over the course of a full game as he’s been all season.

Marbury led Phoenix (21-13) with 32 points and six assists. Shawn Marion added 13 points and Joe Johnson scored 12 for the Suns, who shot 43.2 percent in losing for only the third time in 14 games.

“I’m sure they didn’t want to lose back-to-back games to us,” Phoenix coach Frank Johnson said. “We needed to play our best game to beat them. We didn’t.”

The Lakers outscored the Suns 9-2 on Derek Fisher’s first five points of the game and two baskets by O’Neal for a 62-51 lead early in the third quarter.

At that stage, Marion and Amare Stoudemire had four fouls and four points each. They combined for 40 points in Saturday night’s convincing victory.

The Lakers led 77-68 entering the final period.

Baskets by Horry and O’Neal gave Los Angeles a 40-28 lead with 8:45 left in the second quarter. The Lakers made only three field goals during the rest of the period – all by O’Neal – but led 51-45 at halftime.

Bryant made his first four shots – all medium-range jumpers – to put the Lakers ahead for good in the game’s first three minutes.