Wolves' nightmare a reality as Lakers play near-perfect

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- 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 Sunday.

"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-of-16 shooting.
The Lakers led the entire game, shot 55 percent from the floor and
went 10-for-19 from 3-point range.

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Minneapolis.

"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

The Lakers, who overcame an 11-19 start to finish with 50 wins
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 7-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 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 Rod 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.

Game notes
O'Neal was 10-for-13 from the foul line. ... Paid
attendance was 17,097 -- nearly 2,000 short of capacity. ... The
Lakers are trying to become the second team to win at least four
straight titles. Boston won eight in a row from 1959-66. ... Devean
George, who grew up in Minneapolis and played at Division III
Augsburg College there, had 11 points for the Lakers. ... Joe
Smith, whose status was uncertain because of a hyperextended knee,
started for Minnesota but had only two points in 15 minutes.