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LAKERS HAVE THAT DOWN AND ROUT LOOK L.A. HITS `BOTTOM' IN BLOWOUT LOSS NEW ORLEANS 98, LAKERS 82.

Byline: Howard Beck Staff Writer

Shaquille O'Neal had griped too much, or maybe not enough. Maybe the worst is yet to come, in words and deeds. And the next cutting critique might be coming from the front office, not from the brooding center.

Three nights after O'Neal ripped his surrounding cast, the Lakers responded not with a redeeming rally but a damning nosedive - a 98-82 rout by the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center.

The Hornets on Friday picked up where the Dallas Mavericks left off in the third quarter a week earlier but proved to be better finishers. They took a comfortable lead in the second half, then sat on it, and this time the Lakers could find no magic in their bag of tricks.

They trailed by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter as O'Neal and Kobe Bryant tried in vain to keep the Lakers afloat. And the role players O'Neal criticized for ``doing nothing'' in Tuesday's loss at Oakland, well, they mostly lived up to his assessment.

The Lakers' front office has preached patience even in the face of a losing record and the flirtations with last place. But they expected to see signs of a turnaround by now, and the closer the Lakers (9-15) get to Dec. 31, the closer management gets to shaking up the roster.

O'Neal might yet get his wish for ``eight guys out there with me that want to play.''

O'Neal scored 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds in 39 minutes. But he scored just 12 points after the first quarter, and the Lakers spent the entire second half stumbling through their offense.

Bryant, slowed Tuesday night by a bruised nerve in his right elbow, did not wear a protective pad Friday. But his offense seemed limited as he finished with 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting and five assists.

The Hornets got 21 points from Jamal Mashburn and 18 from Baron Davis.

At the end of a week of brooding and sharp-tongued critiques, O'Neal was predictably intense come tipoff. His temper fueled by a poor record and an inept performance in Oakland, O'Neal at last had an outlet for his fury.

He brutalized Jamal Magloire, then Elden Campbell, on his way to a 16-point first quarter, and the Lakers once again gave the appearance of a focused team. They got O'Neal the ball often, defended with purpose and took an early eight-point lead.

Then old bad habits returned.

The defense softened, the ball couldn't find its way to O'Neal, and the Hornets took over the game. After making 6 of 8 field goals in the first quarter, O'Neal went 2 for 3 in the second.

Mashburn and Davis began to roll, and the Hornets went on a 17-4 run that put the Lakers in a hole and put their fans in a funk. The boos that doused the Lakers a week earlier when they stumbled against Dallas returned with a fury.

They howled when the Hornets went up by 10, hissed when the Lakers turned the ball over on a 24-second violation. By halftime, the Lakers trailed 60-48, the second time in four games they surrendered 60 in a first half.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

Shaquille O'Neal had 28 points and 10 rebounds but didn't get much help from his teammates Friday.

Edna T. Simpson/Daily News

Box:

GAME RECAP
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 14, 2002
Words:566
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