Fog Currently: Los Angeles, CA
Temp: 55° F
  • Game info: 10:30 pm EDT Thu May 1, 2003
  • TV: TNT

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; Lakers lead 3-2.

The defending champions look capable of winning another one. The Minnesota Timberwolves look to be heading toward another first-round exit.

The Los Angeles Lakers try to close out the Timberwolves when they host Game 6 of their Western Conference playoff series.

Even while winning the last three NBA titles, Los Angeles rarely looked more dominant than it did in Tuesday’s 120-90 victory. The Lakers put all five starters in double figures, shot 54.2 percent from the floor, made 52.2 percent of their 3-point attempts and committed just seven turnovers while forcing the Wolves into 17.

Kobe Bryant scored 32 points, Shaquille O’Neal had 27 and Derek Fisher added 24 for the Lakers, who looked even better than they did while winning Game 1 117-98.

“That’s the team I recognize,” coach Phil Jackson said. “Moving the ball and limiting turnovers. We wanted to be sure we struck first and were aggressive.”

Minnesota has again lost the home-court advantage, which it had for the first time in a playoff series, and is now on the verge of another exit in the opening round. The Wolves have never won a playoff series in six previous tries.

For the Wolves to win two straight games and end that streak, they have to prevent the Lakers’ role players from hurting them. Minnesota knows it will struggle to stop Bryant and O’Neal, so it can’t expect to win if it is letting Fisher have a big game and Robert Horry and Devean George score 12 points apiece, as they did Tuesday.

“We’ve got to take care of at least three of the five,” Wolves star Kevin Garnett said.

Meanwhile, Garnett needs more help from his supporting cast. Troy Hudson, averaging 24.6 points in the series, was held to 14 on 5-of-16 shooting and was scoreless in the second half Tuesday. Wally Szczerbiak had only nine points, with more turnovers (four) than field goals (three).

“This series isn’t over,” Szczerbiak said. “We have our work cut out for us. We have to get a game in L.A. and send it to a Game 7. We have to get prepared, and put this one behind us and move forward.”

Los Angeles has picked up its defensive play after allowing 119 and 114 points while losing Games 2 and 3. The Lakers held the Wolves to 43.4 percent shooting in Game 4 and 42.9 percent Tuesday by doing a better job defending Minnesota’s complementary players.

“Playoff series are such long series, you can spot players’ tendencies,” Bryant said. “And that’s the reason we’re doing better against some of their guys.”

If Minnesota wins Thursday, it would host Game 7 on Saturday. But even the Wolves know most people don’t expect that.

“I told our guys, no one can expect - especially how we got beat tonight - for us to be in there on Thursday,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “We need to take what we learned, lick our wounds and take what we learned to Game 6.”

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Timberwolves - 51-31, 4th seed; Lakers - 50-32, 5th seed.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Timberwolves - F Garnett, F Szczerbiak, C Rasho Nesterovic, G Hudson, G Anthony Peeler. Lakers - F George, F Horry, C O’Neal, G Fisher, G Bryant.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Timberwolves - Garnett, 28.8 ppg and 16.4 rpg; Hudson, 5.8 apg. Lakers - Bryant, 32.0 ppg and 6.4 apg; O’Neal, 15.0 rpg.

REGULAR SEASON SERIES: 2-2. Each team won once on the road, but both of the Wolves’ wins were in December and the Lakers’ victories came in March. O’Neal averaged 28.5 points and 12.8 rebounds in the series, while Garnett led Minnesota with 21 points and 13.3 boards per game. Bryant was held to 37 total points in Los Angeles’ two losses, then scored 60 in its two wins.

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