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LAKERS' TRADE PAYS OFF; EX-HORNET RICE STINGS HIS OLD TEAM LAKERS 87, CHARLOTTE 83.

Byline: Howard Beck Staff Writer

Eddie Jones could only play spectator. Glen Rice's play, first a spectacle, became spectacular.

And when the principals in the The Trade finally shared the floor Friday night, Rice did his best to justify the March 1999 deal that made him a Laker, and made L.A. fan favorite Jones a Charlotte Hornet.

Rice scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth, including a momentum-turning 3-pointer in the final three minutes, as the Lakers narrowly escaped with an 87-83 victory over the Hornets at Staples Center.

Rice started slowly and was 1 for 6 entering the final quarter. Then he was suddenly everywhere. He grabbed six rebounds in the fourth quarter and hit the biggest shot of the night.

His 3-pointer capped a 20-5 Lakers run that brought them back from a 13-point deficit and gave them, incredibly, their first lead of the night,80-78

The Hornets - sans the injured Jones with ex-Laker Elden Campbell on the bench after fouling out - fell behind by six but were within two, 85-83, with 13.4 seconds left. Bobby Phills had the chance to hit the potential game-winner, but with 3.5 seconds left, he stepped out of bounds in the left corner while attempting a 3-pointer.

Rice, the onetime Hornet, then nailed two game-clinching free throws with 3 seconds remaining, and the Lakers extended their winning streak to 13. The Hornets lost their fourth in a row and are 2-6 since Jones injured his left elbow in late December.

The Lakers never needed Rice's scoring more than they did against his old team. Shaquille O'Neal struggled to navigate the Hornets' sea of big bodies, including Campbell, and finished with a below-average 23 points. Kobe Bryant, Jones' close friend, seemed out of sorts and missed 14 of19 shots to finish with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

With Jones in the house, and Campbell in the lineup, Bryant conceded there was a special element to the game.

``It's just motivation as far as being competitive because you played together and you don't want him beating you,'' he said. ``I'm sure he doesn't want us beating him, just for bragging rights.''

On a more-significant level, the game pitted the Lakers, one of the top teams in the West, against the Hornets, who until recently had the best record in the East. Until Jones went down with an injury.

``This is a team to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference,'' Bryant said. ``They've been struggling as of late - of course, that's due to a couple injuries they have, but they're definitely a team to be reckoned with.''

The bad omens came early for the Lakers. Jones got the most applause despite not playing (and appearing as a member of the opposing team), Rice was misfiring from the outset, O'Neal's 3-footers were 3 inches short.

And then there was this: The Lakers never got a lead in the first halfand trailed 47-44 at halftime. That had only happened twice before this season, and both games ended in Lakers losses, to Houston and Toronto.

In the first upset of the evening, O'Neal, Rice and Bryant all were held to single-digit scoring in the first half. The trio combined to make 5 of 22 shots, with Bryant going 2 for 12.

A resurgent Derek Fisher scored nine points for the only Lakers highlight of the half.

Fans wasted no time welcoming Jones back to L.A.. His first ovation came before pregame intros, before the National Anthem, before Denzel Washington had even taken his courtside seat.

Jones strolled out of the tunnel with his teammates, his face beamed live on the jumbo video screen, and received a heartfelt welcome.

But it wasn't the return Jones had in mind.

``I'm not playing, so I'm not back,'' he said.

Despite the expectations of suspicious Lakers staffers, Jones is still several days away from playing and had no chance of suiting up Friday.

``I can't even straighten my arm out,'' he said. ``I don't want to come back to the team just because we lost a few games. I'm not 100 percent. .. I don't want to fall again, land on my elbow again, then I have to have surgery. That's one step I don't want to go.''

Instead, Jones will look forward to March 10, when he returns to Staples to play the Clippers, and to Feb. 16, when the Lakers head to Charlotte - though, he admitted, ``it won't be the same'' as facing his old mates in L.A.

``I'll be ready in a month,'' he said. ``I'll be healed all up.''

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo: (color) Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, and Glen Rice go up for rebound during Lakers' win over Charlotte.

David R. Crane/Staff Photographer

BOX: GAME RECAP
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 8, 2000
Words:798
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