- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS The Los Angeles Lakers acknowledged being a little bored during the regular season, and that probably contributed to their poor record on the road.
In the playoffs, though, the story remained the same for Kobe Bryant and the three-time defending champs even without the home-court advantage the Minnesota Timberwolves coveted.
Bryant scored 39 points and Shaquille O'Neal had 32 points and 10 rebounds as the Lakers defeated Minnesota 117-98 to open their first-round series yesterday.
"You can tell by our intensity out there," forward Robert Horry said, "the playoffs is a totally different game."
Bryant scored 29 points in the first half on 12-for-16 shooting. The Lakers led the entire game, shot 55 percent from the floor and went 10-for-19 from 3-point range.
Game2 is tomorrow night in Minneapolis. Paid attendance was 17,097 at Target Center yesterday nearly 2,000 short of capacity.
"They just shot the lights out of the ball," said forward Kevin Garnett. "We'll just have to do that on Tuesday."
Garnett had 23 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists not nearly enough to help the Timberwolves win with home-court advantage for the first time in their history; they were eliminated in the opening round each of the past six years.
"We're pretty experienced at taking crowds out of games," said Bryant. He later dismissed the idea that the Lakers were vulnerable without that extra home game in the first round.
"I don't know what the big deal is about playing on the road," he said. "I've never seen fans scream loud enough to block my jump shot."
The Lakers, who overcame an 11-19 start to win 50 games and grab the No.5 spot in the Western Conference, were only 19-22 on the road during the regular season. But Los Angeles has won 17 of its last 19 postseason games away from Staples Center.
"It's not the first time we've swum in the deep end of the pool, so we're comfortable this time of year," Rick Fox said.
Bryant was active at both ends, helping hold Wally Szczerbiak to 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting. Bryant also was oblivious to whoever guarded him in the first half. After the Lakers scored 39 points in the first period, Bryant went 8-of-9 in the second, most of them long jumpers from the baseline.
"He was, you know, pretty hot," Szczerbiak said. "I was trying to deny, anything, and he got it and hit shots with guys draped all over him."
The Lakers ran their triangle offense to near-perfection in the first 24 minutes, shooting 61.4 percent, committing just two turnovers and hitting seven of 11 from 3-point range to take a 66-52 halftime lead. Fisher and Fox each had three 3-pointers in the first half.
"When they're making 3s," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said, "it's tough to defend."
O'Neal, whose wife, Shaunie, had a baby boy early Saturday, didn't have to contribute much. He had a routine 12 points in the first half, mostly easy dunks off the drive-and-dish from Bryant, but the mere presence of the 7-foot-1, 340-pound center was enough.
O'Neal banged knees on a plodding drive to the hoop in the first quarter with Garnett who was wincing for the next half-minute and landed on Rod Strickland's head as they fell to the floor after a foul in the second.
O'Neal's grandfather died on Thursday, so his teammates told him they were going to win this for him.
"If we keep playing like this," O'Neal said, "we'll be fine. I'm very confident that they can hold down the fort."
The Wolves were at least able to keep the deficit manageable, thanks to a productive effort from their bench and a 55 percent shooting effort in the first half.
Marc Jackson had 11 points and Strickland 10 to provide some relief for Garnett, who was guarded well by Mark Madsen.
Saunders, the only coach in NBA history to lose six straight first-round playoff series, turned to a reporter sitting courtside just before the second half began and said, "Wanna switch spots?"
The Wolves woke up a bit in the third with a 15-6 run as the Lakers turned skittish and sloppy on offense for a brief stretch. They cut the lead to 80-76 but found themselves down double digits again at the end of the quarter.
"I don't think they felt any pressure at any point in the game," Saunders said of the Lakers.



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