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Lakers into the playoffs now

Lakers Take First Step The Lakers took their first step toward a fourth straight championship on Sunday, routing the Wolves 117-98 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. Kobe Bryant went off for 39 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 32 for L.A., which will play in Minnesota again at 6:30 p.m. PT Tuesday (TNT). NBA Playoffs 2003

L.A. Lakers 117, Minnesota 98
Kobe, Shaq Stomp Wolves in Game 1

MINNEAPOLIS, April 20 (Ticker) -- This is exactly what the Minnesota Timberwolves -- and the rest of the NBA -- feared.

Kobe Bryant scored 39 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 29 as the Los Angeles Lakers cruised to a 117-98 rout of the Timberwolves in the opener of their Western Conference first-round series.

The Lakers, who are trying to become just the second team in NBA history to win four straight titles, got off to an 11-19 start before reverting to championship form late in the season. But the slow start forced them to begin a playoff series on the road for just the second time during their recent run.

Minnesota, the league's second-best home team at 33-8, earned home-court advantage for the first time in team history.

But the Lakers wasted little time jumping all over the Timberwolves, taking the lead for good on the first basket of the game, a 3-pointer by Derek Fisher 23 seconds into the contest. Los Angeles opened a 39-23 edge after one quarter and extended it to 64-44 on a jumper by Bryant with 2:57 left in the half.

Minnesota climbed within 66-52 at the break.

Bryant went through multiple defenders in the first half, scoring 28 points on 12-of-16 shooting as the Lakers connected on 61 percent of their attempts (27-of-44).

The Timberwolves briefly made the game competitive, climbing within 80-76 on a free throw by Gary Trent with 2:49 left in the third quarter. But the Lakers countered was O'Neal had eight minutes during a 12-0 run over the next four minutes. They led by as many as 21 down the stretch.

Kevin Garnett contributed 23 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists for the Timberwolves, who made half of their 76 shots but allowed the Lakers to shoot 55 percent (44-of-80).

Los Angeles made 10-of-19 3-pointers while Minnesota went just 1-of-5 from the arc. Fisher, who finished with 17 points, was 5-of-6 from 3-point range.

Game Two is Tuesday at Minnesota.

All tied up

Devean George's bucket with 4:40 left enabled the Lakers to take a one-point lead, and they held on the rest of the way in a 102-97 Game 4 victory over the Timberwolves

on Sunday, knotting their playoff series at two games apiece. Kobe Bryant led a fourth-quarter charge with 13 of his 32 points. Shaquille O'Neal finished with a game-

high 34 points. Los Angeles will try to gain a 3-2 advantage in the series on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. (TNT) in Minnesota.

L.A. Lakers 102, Minnesota 97
Shaq and Kobe Even Things Up

LOS ANGELES, April 27 (Ticker) -- Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers can breathe a major sigh of relief.

O'Neal contributed 34 points and 23 rebounds and Bryant scored 32 points despite poor shooting as the Lakers rallied to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 102-97, and even their best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series at two games apiece.

The Lakers appeared to be in major trouble with 1:57 left in the third quarter, when the Timberwolves took a 74-63 advantage on a 3-pointer by Troy Hudson. But Los Angeles scored the final eight points of the period and tied the game on a 3-pointer by Bryant with 10:49 remaining.

"We knew that we needed this game, and we play our best when our backs are against the wall," said O'Neal, who posted his eighth career playoff game with at least 30 points and 20 rebounds - one more than every other active player in the league combined.

The Timberwolves scored the next six points and held an 87-82 lead after Anthony Peeler went 1-of-2 from the line with 6:34 left. But the Lakers reeled off eight straight points, taking the lead for good, 88-87, on a jumper by Devean George with 4:40 to play.

After Kevin Garnett got Minnesota within 96-95 on a shot from the arc with 35 seconds left, Bryant missed a hanging jumper in the lane, but O'Neal tipped in the rebound to make it 98-95 with 19 seconds to play.

Garnett, who made his first seven free-throw attempts, was fouled four seconds later but missed both shots, and Bryant gave the Lakers a five-point lead with a pair from the stripe with 12 seconds left.

"It humbles you very quick," Garnett said. "The ball actually felt pretty good coming off my hand. I missed them. But I'll take them anytime."

Garnett made it 100-97 with a turnaround jumper with 8.8 seconds remaining, but Bryant iced the game with another pair from the line with 7.2 left.

Bryant shot just 7-of-25 from the field but went 16-of-17 from the line.

"I don't get too many wide-open jump shots," he said. "They just pretty much stay inside my shirt 'til they find out what kind of deodorant I have on."

O'Neal, who made half of his 26 shots, was only 8-of-15 from the line but grabbed 10 offensive rebounds - two more than the Timbwerwolves.

"I've got to get the damned ball," he said. "Bring the ball and throw it to me every time. If I get the ball every time, I can do what I do and we're fine."

"When it's a critical game, he always comes in with that look in his eyes," Lakers guard Brian Shaw said of O'Neal. "You always know he's going to perform like he did tonight."

Los Angeles outscored Minnesota on second-chance points, 29-2.

"It was a survival game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Our bench gave us a big game. We had second-chance points that I thought were overwhelming. That's the difference in this ballgame, considering the urgency that we had to play with."

"We (allowed) 18 offensive rebounds for 29 points - two things that are our strengths really were our weaknesses tonight," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "But they did a good job. Shaq was extremely aggressive tonight, he had by far the best game of the whole series. Their bench came in and they played extremely well for them in the second half."

The Lakers lost forward Rick Fox to a strained left ankle tendon with 6:37 left in the first quarter. He did not return and will have an MRI taken Monday.

Garnett and Hudson each scored 28 points and Garnett added 18 rebounds for Minnesota, which held Los Angeles to 40 percent shooting (35-of-88) but connected on just 43 percent (36-of-83). The Lakers went 26-of-35 from the line and the Timberwolves 16-of-20.

The Timberwolves scored the final nine points of the first quarter to take a 26-25 lead and held a 45-43 edge at the break behind 20 points from Hudson and 10 and 11 rebounds from Garnett.

O'Neal totaled 21 points and 11 rebounds in the half. Bryant had 11 after shooting 4-of-13.

"Rick went out and we realized early in the first half that he was not going to return," Jackson said. "Devean got into foul trouble and Kobe moved to small forward. But we were able to survive it, even though we weren't very efficient or very fluid as a basketball team during that period of time."

Game Five is Tuesday at the Target Center.

"Our guys in the locker room are not satisfied, even though we came in here and got one and one and had opportunities down the stretch," Saunders said. "Let's tip it up again on Tuesday."

"It's like there's a heavyweight championship belt and we're trying to take it away," Garnett added. "We're confident. We had them on the ropes, and they know it."

L.A. Lakers 120, Minnesota 109
Lakers One Victory From Next Round

MINNEAPOLIS, April 29 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers showed the Minnesota Timberwolves what it takes to win a big playoff game.

Bryant scored 32 points, O'Neal added 27 and the Lakers got great support in a 120-90 destruction of the Timberwolves that gave them a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.

The fifth-seeded Lakers appeared to be in trouble after losing Game Three at home in overtime to fall behind in the series. But they evened things with a win in Game Four on Sunday and showed their huge advantage in experience Tuesday.

"Experience pays off when you get in games like this," Bryant said. "We know how to handle it and know how to apply pressure to the other team. ... We don't need to get too excited about this win. We did what champions are supposed to do."

"We just had a little bit more intensity than they did," O'Neal said. "This is the first game in a long time we've had a good four quarters."

As usual, the three-time defending champions relied heavily on Bryant, who scored 16 points in the third quarter, and O'Neal, who made 10-of-18 shots and pulled down 11 rebounds.

But they also received big performances from Derek Fisher and Robert Horry, who have been part of all three title teams but had struggled in this series.

Fisher, who had been outplayed by Minnesota guard Troy Hudson, scored 24 points. Horry, who had not made a 3-pointer in the first four games, made two in a second-quarter surge that gave the Lakers the lead for good.

"Fisher was instrumental and inspirational," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Shaq dominated down low. Kobe had a great second half. Horry made some big shots and contributed nicely."

"Tonight we set the tone early, and those first few minutes in the third period were extremely important," Fisher said.

Playing their 600th playoff game in search of their 15th championship, the Lakers thoroughly outclassed the Timberwolves, who were playing their 28th playoff game in search of their first series win.

"Well, it was Groundhog Day, very similar to Game One, with Fisher hitting threes and them establishing their role players," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "We played out of character."

In what may have been the biggest game in the history of the franchise, Minnesota came up very small. Superstar Kevin Garnett had 25 points and 16 rebounds but got very little help.

The Lakers shot 54 percent (45-of-83), including 12-of-23 from 3-point range. They held a 44-36 edge on the glass and committed just seven turnovers.

"This is a team that I recognize," Jackson said. "We got into our defensive core, limited turnovers and found open men - and our 3-point shooters made shots."

Los Angeles can advance to the conference semifinals for the seventh straight year with a win at home Thursday.

"It's win or die," Garnett said. "We've got all the confidence in the world and we've won at Staples before. I hope they don't think it's over, because we're coming."

A clutch playoff performer, Horry missed his first 11 3-pointers of the series before making one to give the Lakers the lead for good at 43-40 with 4:07 left in the second quarter. He added another between jumpers by Fisher to extend the lead to 52-44 with 1:54 remaining.

O'Neal had a basket, two free throws and another hoop to make it 58-46 just before halftime.

After a quiet first half, Bryant exploded in the third quarter. With 7:23 left, he got going with a spectacular play, driving past Garnett along the right baseline and coming up on the other side of the rim for a reverse dunk that made it 73-55.

"My teammates were really excited about my dunk," Bryant said. "A slam like that can demoralize a team and silence the crowd. I'm interested to see it on tape."

Bryant had 14 more points in the rest of the quarter as the Lakers extended to a 94-73 bulge entering the final period. The Wolves got no closer than 18 points thereafter. Devean George started for the injured Rick Fox and had 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Fox tore a leg tendon in Game Four and is out for the playoffs.

"George did a great job replacing Rick Fox," Jackson said.

Hudson had 14 points and seven assists for Minnesota, which shot 43 percent (36-of-84) and committed 17 turnovers. Wally Szczerbiak continued to struggle, managing just nine points on 3-of-7 shooting.

"I think Wally has a lot of pressure on him to score in this town," Bryant said. "The crowd is really on him whenever he misses a shot."

Fisher was 8-of-10 overall and 5-of-7 from the arc. He scored nine points in the first quarter as the Lakers grabbed a 28-25 lead.

Bring on the Spurs
Kobe Bryant went off for 14 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers advanced to
the semifinals with a 101-85 win over the Wolves on Thursday. Kobe finished with 31
for L.A., which squares off against the Spurs in the next round starting at 6:30
p.m. Monday (TNT).

Lakers Storm Back
With Game 3 Win

Kobe Bryant poured in 39 points, leading the Lakers to a 110-95 win over the Spurs on Friday and pulling L.A. closer in their Western Conference Semifinal series. The Lakers will try to tie the series at 2-2 in Game 4 on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. (ABC).

L.A. Lakers 110, San Antonio 95
Lakers Win, Can Tie Series Sunday

George scored nine points in the first quarter and Bryant scored 14 of his 39 points in the fourth as the Los Angeles Lakers got off to a quick start and rolled to a 110-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal.

After severely spraining his left ankle in Game 1 and missing Game 2, George was expected to come off the bench in a limited capacity in this one. But he was inserted into the starting lineup at the last minute and sparked Los Angeles, which pulled within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

"He came into my office about 25 minutes before the game and said he was OK to play," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I told him if he warmed up all right, we would let him play."

"I had to block it out and play through it," George said. "Hopefully it was a boost for everybody to see that I was just trying to grind it out in an important game."

George opened the game with consecutive jumpers and buried a three-pointer with 5:20 remaining as the Lakers jumped out to a 19-4 lead.

"It was Willis Reed-like," Bryant said. "Devean came in and played extremely well, played with a lot of heart. The ankle was bothering him. He sprained it really badly and for him to come out and play with the intensity that he played with, I think it is big for him to know he can do that in this type of situation."

George buried a jumper with 3:09 remaining and Bryant made a layup before Shaquille O'Neal sank consecutive shots for a 29-12 cushion with 1:17 left to play in the first quarter.

Los Angeles closed the first half with a 14-6 run, led by 14 at the break and never were threatened in the second half.

Bryant scored nine points in the third quarter and scored the first 10 for the Lakers in the fourth. Los Angeles opened the final period with a 12-2 run and had a 93-69 cushion after Mark Madsen made a layup off a pass from Bryant.

O'Neal fell just shy of a triple-double with 21 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists as the Lakers beat the Spurs for the first time in seven tries this season.

"I was instructed to get everybody involved, so they threw it to me in the post and we tried something different," he said. "This was a must win game for us."

Derek Fisher scored 14 points and George finished with 13 for Los Angeles, which shot 51 percent (36-of-71) from the floor to overcome 18 turnovers.

Robert Horry collected 13 points and 12 rebounds as the Lakers held a 46-36 advantage on the glass.

Bryant made 15-of-17 free throws as Los Angeles, which complained about the officiating in Games 1 and 2, attempted 16 more free throws than San Antonio.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan had 28 points and 11 assists but got little help as the rest of the Spurs starters combined for just 18 points on 6-of-30 shooting.

"They jumped on us early," Duncan said. "They were good and we got knocked on our heels. They were great tonight, they came out of the gates with a lot of energy and emotion."

San Antonio bounced back from the disastrous first quarter and pulled within 36-30 on a jumper by Stephen Jackson, who scored six of his nine points in the second quarter.

"I thought we did a pretty decent job of sustaining them after they made that run," Duncan said. "We made one or two attempts to get back in the game but never got over the hump."

Fisher answered with a three-pointer as the Lakers scored 14 of the next 20 points despite playing without O'Neal, who was sitting on the bench with his third foul. The Lakers made 9-of-11 free throws in the final 4:47 to take a 50-36 lead at the half.

Lakers, Spurs Tied at 2-2

Shaquille O'Neal's free throws tied the score with 1:17 to go, and Kobe Bryant sank 4-of-6 shots from the charity stripe in the closing moments to boost Los Angeles to a 99-95 victory over the Spurs in Game 4 Sunday, knotting the conference semifinal series at two games apiece. Bryant had 35 points and O'Neal finished with 29 points and 17 boards. The Lakers will now travel to San Antonio for Game 5 at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (TNT).

L.A. Lakers 99, San Antonio 95
Lakers Burn Spurs, Even Series at 2-2

LOS ANGELES, May 11 (Ticker) -- Missing their head coach and with their backs against the wall, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers responded with a championship effort.

Bryant and O'Neal came up big down the stretch on offense and on defense as the Lakers eked out a 99-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs to even their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.

Trailing by as many as 16 points late in the second quarter and by 10 points midway through the third, the Lakers were in serious danger of falling behind, 3-1 to the top-seeded Spurs. But behind Bryant and O'Neal, Los Angeles powered its way back into the game and outplayed San Antonio in the waning moments.

O'Neal, a poor free-throw shooter, sank a pair with 1:17 left to even the contest, 95-95. The All-Star center then stole a pass by Tim Duncan intended for Stephen Jackson in the paint with a minute remaining, and Bryant sank 1-of-2 free throws 12 seconds later to put the Lakers ahead for good.

On the Spurs' ensuing possession, Duncan dribbled the ball off his foot but dived on the floor kicked it out to Jackson on the perimeter. But Jackson missed a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down, giving the Lakers the ball with 24 seconds left.

Tony Parker, Malik Rose and Bruce Bowen attempted to foul Derek Fisher but none was called, allowing the Lakers to take 10 seconds off the clock before Bryant was fouled. He calmly sank two free throws to give the Lakers a 98-95 lead with 14 seconds left, forcing the Spurs to take a timeout.

Bryant then intercepted Parker's terrible inbound pass to Manu Ginobili, and he hit 1-of-2 free throws to cap the scoring with 11 seconds left. Bryant finished with 35 points and O'Neal had 29 and 17 rebounds for Los Angeles, which shot just 39 percent (28-of-71) but made 35-of-45 free throws. Bryant went 14-of-17 from the stripe and O'Neal a surprising 17-of-23.

The Lakers were missing coach Phil Jackson, who was resting after undergoing an angioplasty on Saturday to undo 90 percent blockage in an artery. Assistant Jim Cleamons, a longtime assistant under Jackson, coached the Lakers in Jackson's absence.

It is not known if Jackson will be cleared to travel to San Antonio for Game Five on Tuesday night. Jackson has won nine championships, tying the legendary Red Auerbach atop the all-time list. His playoff record of 159-58 is the best in NBA history.

Duncan contributed 36 points and nine rebounds for the Spurs, who led by 43-27 with just under four minutes left in the first half. But Duncan went to the bench after acquiring a third foul with 3:27 left - seven seconds after Bryant also was whistled for a third foul - and Los Angeles pulled within 46-39 at the half.

The Lakers trailed by 64-55 with 3:10 to play in the third quarter before closing the period on a 16-3 run after Duncan picked up his fourth foul. Neither team led by more than four points in the fourth quarter. here for more past info...