The youthful Los Angeles Lakers might be the future of the Western Conference. The present, however, belongs to a pair of veteran teams, the Seattle SuperSonics and Utah Jazz.

Gary Payton scored 12 of his 27 points in the final quarter as the Sonics beat the Lakers 101-89 Mon-day night. Seattle is 3-0 against the Lakers this season."We've played three tough games," Sonics forward Vin Baker said. "But we're comfortable in close games because we think our veteran leadership will see us though."

Baker and Detlef Schrempf each scored 21 points for Seattle, which squandered a 21-point lead before pulling away in the final seven minutes.

Shaquille O'Neal scored 25 points for the Lakers. But All-Star Kobe Bryant, who entered the game with a 16-point average, was held scoreless and took only one shot in 13 minutes.

The Sonics improved their NBA-best record to 49-15 and increased their Pacific Division lead over the Lakers to four games. But Seattle's record is just one game better than Midwest leader Utah, which won its 11th straight with a 102-96 victory at Minnesota (see story on Page D1).

PISTONS 103, HEAT 90: Grant Hill scored 26 points as Detroit snapped an eight-game losing streak against Miami.

Brian Williams added 17 points for the Pistons, who won for only the third time in their last 14 road games.

Alonzo Mourning scored 26 points for the Heat, who lost for just the fourth time in 22 games.

HORNETS 109, NUGGETS 87: Matt Geiger had 18 points and 14 rebounds as Charlotte ended Denver's season-best, two-game winning streak,

Dell Curry added 18 points and Glen Rice had 17 as the Hornets won for the 11th time in 12 games and ended the Nuggets' bid for their first three-game winning streak since December 1996.

Johnny Newman scored 17 points for the Nuggets (7-59), who fell to 1-32 on the road and remained on course to eclipse the worst record in NBA history, the 9-73 mark set 25 years ago by the Philadelphia 76ers.

SPURS 96, BUCKS 85: Tim Duncan had 25 points and 17 rebounds as San Antonio beat slumping Milwaukee.

David Robinson added 21 points for the Spurs, and Vinny Del Negro had 15.

BULLS 88, NETS 72: At Chicago, Toni Kukoc scored 14 of his 21 points in the decisive third quarter, and the Bulls went on to win despite a poor performance by Michael Jordan.

Jordan had 17 points, 11 fewer than his NBA-leading average. He also missed an uncontested dunk, had another attempted dunk blocked by David Vaughn, committed four turnovers and was 6-for-15 from the field.

But the Bulls still won easily over the injury-ravaged Nets, getting 16 rebounds from Dennis Rodman and holding New Jersey to a season-low point total.