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Saturday, April 26, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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NBA Playoffs -- Lakers' O'neal Scores 46 -- Sabonis Is Overpowered By L.A. Center In Opener

AP

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Shaquille O'Neal, the $120 million man imported to help Los Angeles win its first NBA championship of the 1990s, looked to be worth the money.

O'Neal had a playoff career-high 46 points and 11 rebounds last night as the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 95-77 in their series opener.

He was also better than usual at the free-throw line, hitting 12 of 18 to atone for his two missed foul shots against Portland on Sunday that helped cost the Lakers the Pacific Division title.

"I wanted to come out and play well because I really played awful Sunday," O'Neal said. "I let my guys down. I thought about it all week."

O'Neal thoroughly dominated 7-foot-3 Arvydas Sabonis, one of the few centers who can match up with the 7-1 O'Neal. Sabonis had 18 points and nine rebounds but couldn't control O'Neal under the basket.

With less than a minute remaining, O'Neal scored his final two points on a rim-rattling, alley-oop dunk that sent Sabonis sprawling backward into courtside photographers.

Hawks 89, Pistons 75

ATLANTA - Dikembe Mutombo was the NBA's defensive player of the year. In the first game of the playoffs, he showed he can score, too.

Mutombo had 26 points, a career playoff high, and the Atlanta Hawks took Game 1 of their Eastern Conference series with Detroit.

Detroit, which has not won a playoff game in five years, led 43-39 at halftime but hit only 12 of 38 shots (32 percent) in the second half.

Mutombo kept the Hawks in the game with his offensive output, then Atlanta's guards took control in the final period. Steve Smith had eight points and Mookie Blaylock five in the fourth when the Hawks pulled away from a three-point lead entering the period.

Mutombo, in his first season with the Hawks, eclipsed his previous career high of 23 points set in a 1994 game against Utah when he played with the Denver Nuggets. Mutombo made 10 of 14 shots and also had 15 rebounds.

Hill finished with 20 points to lead the Pistons, but Atlanta kept him off-balance by switching its coverage in the second half.

All five Atlanta starters scored in double figures. Christian Laettner had 18 points despite early foul trouble, Smith had 17, Blaylock 13 and Tyrone Corbin 11.

Bulls 98, Bullets 86

CHICAGO - The Chicago Bulls didn't get much from Dennis Rodman or Toni Kukoc and didn't play very well overall. It didn't matter.

Led by Michael Jordan's 29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, the Bulls still defeated the Washington Bullets to begin defense of their NBA title.

The Bulls won despite shooting only 38 percent and getting little production from Rodman and Kukoc, who returned after missing several weeks with injuries.

Chris Webber, named NBA player of the week as the Bullets finished the season with a four-game winning streak to make the playoffs, had only eight points in 24 minutes before fouling out. He averaged 20.1 this season.

Juwan Howard scored 21 points and Rod Strickland 19 for the Bullets, who committed 22 turnovers.

Rodman, who missed the final 13 games with a knee injury, played with a brace and had nine rebounds and one point before being ejected for his second technical foul with 6:23 to play. Kukoc, who sat out 22 of the final 26 regular-season games, was 1 for 10 from the floor.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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