LOS ANGELES, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Chris Webber had 25 points and 15 rebounds Wednesday night as Sacramento downed the Los Angeles Lakers, 105-99.
It was the first time the two teams had squared off in a game that counted since the Western Conference finals last season. The Christmas Day matchup was one of the most anticipated in the NBA, even more so after a fight between Doug Christie and Rick Fox in a preseason game that resulted in suspensions for both players.
Shaquille O'Neal escalated the war of words when he referred to the Kings as the "Queens."
"There is history there, what happened last year and what happened during this year's preseason," said Sacramento Coach Rick Adelman. "This is the first game this year. This is a different year, you don't think about what happened last year."
The difference between the teams on Wednesday was illustrated after Los Angeles cut its deficit to 92-89 with 3:31 remaining. Mike Bibby responded by making 1-of-2 at the line for Sacramento. Kobe Bryant was stripped on an out-of-control drive and Jim Jackson converted a layup on the fast break for a six-point cushion.
Derek Fisher missed a pair of jumpers and O'Neal missed a short shot on the next possession. Webber came through with a jumper for a 97-89 lead with 2:14 to go.
"Going through all we went through last year in Game Seven, it was easier to be calm this game," Webber said. "Even though, in all honesty, we were just as excited. We were just trying to keep our focus the whole game."
Los Angeles held a 12-point lead in the third quarter before the speed of Sacramento helped turn things around. Bryant and O'Neal combined to make only 4-of-20 shots after halftime, and two of those were meaningless layups by O'Neal in the final 30 seconds.
"For a team as qualified (as we are), we're not doing things that make basketball sense," said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. "Situations where their team just dramatically overplayed Kobe and Shaquille, we didn't go away from them and use our offensive system and play basketball away from them and come back in them in the second aspect or the second options. This is just a matter of players playing with some insecurities right now."
Bryant chose to look at the bright side.
"The first half was probably the best we've played so far this season," he said. "We really had our rhythm going for us. We played well in spurts. We're not at the level where we can play this well consistently for 48 minutes."
Peja Stojakovic matched a season high for Sacramento with 26 points, and Bibby shook off 5-of-16 shooting for 14. Christie, a former Laker, keyed a strong effort on defense with six of the Kings' 13 steals.
O'Neal had 27 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, and Bryant added 27 and a career-high 15 boards. The duo made just 15-of-43 shots as Los Angeles shot a meager 37 percent (33-of-90).
The start of the game did not feature the usual handshakes and fist touches that most teams exchange before the opening tip. Christie and Fox stood right next to each other to vie for the tip, but neither acknowledged the other.
The Kings received a stellar effort from their bench, which combined to make 12-of-21 shots. Bobby Jackson scored 11 points, Jim Jackson added eight, and Keon Clark netted seven, including a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop feed from Bobby Jackson in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Lakers' reserves combined to convert only 7-of-18 shots for 17 points.
Sacramento has won 11 out of 14, and improved to 9-2 against Pacific Division opponents. Los Angeles has lost six out of eight games and is sixth in the division, 11 1/2 games behind the front-running Kings.