Lakers 90, Timberwolves 73
LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Los Angeles Lakers are finally playing the way most people expected.
Kobe Bryant scored 35 points and Shaquille O’Neal had 22 points and 18 rebounds Friday night in the Lakers’ 90-73 victory over Minnesota, their seventh consecutive victory and second lopsided win in a row over a top Western Conference opponent.
The Lakers, with all four of their superstars healthy again, were coming off a 24-point victory over Sacramento on Wednesday. Los Angeles trails the Kings by two games.
“Knowing that we’ve got everybody healthy, we’re starting to build our chemistry back,” Bryant said. “We’re a confident bunch. That comes from experience, so when we get into the playoffs, we have the confidence that we can beat anybody.”
Los Angeles’ first win in four games against Minnesota this season moved the Lakers (49-23) ahead of the Timberwolves (49-24) for the Western Conference’s second-best record.
“That was a real important win,” Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. “Odds are that we’ll meet them in the playoffs, and we wanted to send the message that we’re not going to be easy to beat.”
Bryant said the Lakers definitely want to get the West’s top seeding for the playoffs.
“We’re going to go get it. That’s been our approach all along—that we’re going to play the season all the way through and see where we end up,” the Lakers’ guard said.
Jackson obviously is pleased to see the Lakers’ making a move.
“I think they’ve got the smell of the finish line,” he said. “In horse racing, some horses smell the end of the race and they get out there and get it.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but I feel like we’re controlling our own destiny.”
The game against Minnesota had a playoff-type atmosphere, with the sellout crowd of 18,997 loud and lively.
Latrell Sprewell led the Timberwolves, who have lost the first two games of a four-game road trip, with 19 points, but he was just 5-of-15 from the floor. Kevin Garnett, guarded mostly by Malone, went 6-of-18 and had 16 points.
Minnesota shot a season-low 31.4 percent (27-86). The Lakers shot 39.3 percent (35-89).
“We played terrible,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “Kobe was great and Shaq controlled the paint, but neither team really lit it up as far as shooting.”
Bryant had 11 points in the first quarter and the Lakers were up 25-21, then O’Neal scored 10 in the second and Los Angeles led 50-42 at halftime. Bryant had 13 in the third quarter as the Lakers outscored the Timberwolves 28-12 to open a 78-54 lead.
Bryant, coming off a 36-point performance against Sacramento, made several spectacular shots as the Lakers pulled away in the third.
Seemingly trapped under the basket by three defenders, Bryant whirled toward the free throw line and lofted the ball as he fell away. It went in to give Los Angeles a 57-42 lead.
Late in the game, Bryant got a defensive rebound, turned and fired a perfect lead pass to Rick Fox at the other end of the court for an easy layup. Bryantheld his arms up and signaled touchdown as the crowd roared.
The Timberwolves had beaten the Lakers 96-86 in their previous meeting before a record crowd of 20,391 at Target Center on March 12. The Lakers had all four of their superstars for that game, but it was Malone’s first time back after spending more than two months on the injured list. … Malone, 40, said he is weighing whether to retire after this season, saying it would be for personal reasons—to spend more time with his family—and not whether hestill thought he could play or not.