PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers earned more than just a victory. They gained momentum, added respect and undisputed possession of the league's best record.
''This was a good game for our confidence, knowing we can come in here and win,'' Glen Rice said after the Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 90-87 Tuesday night in a thrilling battle between the NBA's two finest teams.
Shaquille O'Neal had 23 points and Kobe Bryant added 22 for the Lakers, who won their 12th straight game and snapped the Blazers' 11-game streak. Portland also had won 16 straight at home.
''It means a lot to win, even though we kind of stunk up the place,'' said Bryant, whose team committed 16 turnovers and nearly blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead. ''We played our best only in spurts. We had a couple of letdowns, but we still got the win.''
The Lakers improved to 46-11, one game ahead of the Blazers in the Pacific Division. Los Angeles also tied the season series 2-2, preventing the Blazers from clinching the head-to-head tiebreaker should the teams finish the regular season tied.
''This win gives us a leg up on winning the conference,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Asked whether the Lakers could win it, O'Neal said, ''If we don't have any more slippage, like we had after our 16-game streak was broken, then I believe we will win it.''
Scottie Pippen had 19 points to lead the Blazers, who couldn't get anything going after Pippen's 3-pointer put Portland ahead 85-84 with 3:07 to go.
''We definitely wanted this one bad, but this is a game we know we're going to have to make up, to try to get back in the lead,'' Portland's Steve Smith said.
It was the first time in NBA history that two teams with at least an 11-game winning streak had faced each other, and the game lived up to its billing right to the end.
The Lakers led by as many as 11 early in the fourth quarter, but a 3-pointer by Greg Anthony tied it at 80-all with 4:46 to play, and Pippen's 3-pointer from 27 feet away gave the Blazers the lead.
Both teams sputtered for the next few minutes, but the Lakers inched ahead on two free throws by Bryant and another by Ron Harper to make it 87-85 with 34.3 seconds left.
After Damon Stoudamire missed an 18-foot jumper, O'Neal was quickly fouled and made one of two for an 88-85 lead. Pippen rushed another long 3-pointer, and Smith's shot off a long offensive rebound was nowhere close.
Portland got a meaningless layup from Arvydas Sabonis to end the game.
''I was especially disappointed with our breakdown in the last 24 seconds,'' Portland coach Mike Dunleavy said. ''One guy came out of the huddle and apparently didn't know what we were doing. What we ended up getting wasn't what we drew up.''
Surprisingly, the Lakers won it at the free throw line, and O'Neal shot 9-of-13. He and Bryant, who was 10-of-10, took 23 of the Lakers' 27 shots from the line.
''When I go up there and concentrate like Jerry West, good things happen,'' said O'Neal, who was 7-of-10 in the second half, convincing Jackson to leave him on the floor until the final moments.
The Blazers trailed by nine in the third quarter, fought back to take a 61-60 lead, then trailed by six to start the fourth. A jumper in the lane by Brian Shaw pushed the lead to 75-64 with 9:34 left. But the Blazers ran of six quick points, and a fast-break slam by Pippen cut it to 75-70.
Detlef Schrempf converted a three-point play after drawing a bump from O'Neal, and Anthony's 3-pointer tied it at 80-all with 4:46 to play, setting up Pippen's 3.
After that, however, the Blazers missed their next six shots.
Portland must have known it was in trouble when O'Neal missed seven of his 10 shots in the first half and Bryant didn't hit his first basket until midway through the second quarter, and yet the Lakers still led by seven at halftime.
The Blazers missed 10 of their first 13 shots to start the second quarter and couldn't find their range from relatively short distances. A 3-pointer by Rick Fox, followed by Bryant's 14-foot jumper and two free throws, gave the Lakers a 42-32 lead with 1:55 left.
Pippen made a 3-pointer, Bryant added two more free throws, and Stoudamire drove down the lane for an easy layup with 4.8 seconds left to cut the lead to 44-37 at the half.
Notes: The Lakers had lost seven straight regular-season games at the Rose Garden, dating back to April 1996. ... Rice, who is averaging 16.5 points per game this season, has averaged just 11.8 points in four games Portland and shot 33 percent. ... Brian Grant, the Blazers' best rebounder, sat out the game with a sore right foot. ... Sabonis had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers. ... Portland's bench is considered far better than the Lakers, but L.A.'s reserves outscored the Blazers' 25-18. ''Our bench is tired of hearing about how great Portland's bench is,'' Rice said.
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