SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- You almost forgot they had weaknesses, but they do.
You had only vague memories of a time when Shaquille O'Neal didn't force his foes into scared surrender, and when the Los Angeles Lakers' bench failed to fire.
When the bridge to victory was set for crossing, and the Lakers blew it up instead.
So, if you were stunned by the Lakers' Game 3 loss, 99-91, to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, you were not alone, not by a long shot.
''I want them to be down,'' Laker Coach Phil Jackson said of his players. ''They should be embarrassed by the way they played today.''
You thought they were unbeatable?
Not in Game 3 before 17,317 at Arco Arena, with O'Neal struggling with his shooting touch (at the free-throw line and from the field) and the Kings finding magic performances out of Tony Delk and Predrag Stojakovic.
And now the Lakers are forced into Game 4 here Tuesday.
''It doesn't feel right,'' said Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers with a playoff career-high 35 points, 16 coming in the fourth quarter. ''It feels awkward.
''We had a chance to close it out. We had this game in our hands. We just basically handed it to them. That's embarrassing.''
In a hail of missed free throws (they made only 16 of 32 tries) and a stunning fourth-quarter stumble (when the Kings went on an 18-2 run to take control of the game), the Lakers failed to complete a three-game sweep and opened at least a glimmer of doubt on their presumed march to a championship.
The Lakers won 67 regular-season games, have the sure-thing most valuable player, were the class of the league all year.... Can one clunker of a fourth quarter erode their air of invincibility?
''I think we still have that air,'' said co-captain Ron Harper. ''I don't think I'm going to allow us to be down as a basketball team....
''The one thing I told the guys, 'We let this slip through our hands. It's our fault. We can't blame it on anybody, we've got to blame it on what we did.'
''We missed foul shots and dumb things that we just don't do as a team.''
It was strange, because, until the fourth quarter, despite O'Neal's bad shooting performance, the Lakers showcased so many of their usual winning points.
O'Neal made only 13 of his 24 field-goal tries (and only five of his 14 free throws ), but still grabbed 17 rebounds and prevented anything soft from the Kings to venture near the basket.
The Laker defense, through three quarters, was solid enough to slow the Kings' offense to a jog and prevent any wild eruptions.
After three careful quarters, the Lakers were ahead, 71-66, and one more patient period would complete a powerful three-game sweep.
Then? ''We just had a terrific fourth quarter,'' King Coach Rick Adelman said.
''You know, you have to make free throws,'' Jackson said, pointing out the Lakers missed 13 of 24 free throws in the third quarter, when they could have and should have been extending the lead into double digits. ''If you're going to win a basketball game, you have to make free throws.
''And we had opportunities all the way through ... to really solve this game and have a double-digit lead and have some things happen for us.'
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