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

Shaquille O'Neal scored 32 and hauled in 10 rebounds in the Lakers' Game 1 win.
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MINNEAPOLIS, April 20 (Ticker) -- This is exactly what the Minnesota Timberwolves -- and the rest of the NBA -- feared.

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Kobe Bryant scored 39 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 32 as the Los Angeles Lakers cruised to a 117-98 rout of the Timberwolves in the opener of their Western Conference first-round series.

"We have great weapons on this team," O'Neal said. "If you double and triple me, then Kobe is going to get off. If you double and triple him, then I'm going to be there to get off."

"We need to make defensive adjustments," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders admitted. "They made tough shots, but we can't be in a position where Kobe and Shaq dominate the entire game."

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.

"We don't think of it as a switch," Bryant said. "It's a sense of urgency because the moment of truth is here. It's an immediate threat, an immediate danger, because they can knock us out of our title run. That's something that we have to deal with, and we have to deal with it right now."

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.

"They shot the ball very, very well," Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett said. "They shot something like 67 percent in the first quarter. You have to take your hat off to them. There's not much you can do at that point."

Minnesota climbed within 66-52 at the break.

"You probably hope that I will have a lot of answers, but I probably don't," Saunders said. "Initially, to start the game we didn't have the aggressiveness that you need to play in any playoff series."

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).

"(Minnesota) is a team that normally traps people, so I felt like it was important at the start of the game, when I do penetrate and get in the gaps, to kick it to my open man and get them easy baskets," Bryant said. "Then I felt like they would have to honor that. As you saw in the first quarter, that's what I did. In the second quarter, I started attacking and started putting the ball in the hole."

"(Bryant) was pretty hot," said Minnesota guard Wally Szczerbiak, who was matched against Bryant for much of the game and scored 15 points. "We were trying to deny him, trying to do whatever we could to keep it out of his hands. And when he got it, he was hitting shots with guys draped all over him. He had one of those games."

The Timberwolves briefly made it close, climbing within 80-76 on a free throw by Gary Trent with 2:49 left in the third quarter.

"Third quarter, they got into it, which is to be expected," Bryant said. "We expected them to make a run. We did a good job fending them off."

But the Lakers countered as O'Neal had eight points during a 12-0 run over the next four minutes. They led by as many as 21 down the stretch.

"It seemed like there was a lot of space in the first half and Kobe was able to do what he wanted and get in a rhythm," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Then, in the second, when Kobe's space went away, Shaq had space and was able to carry us."

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).

"We shot 50 percent, only had 10 turnovers and nearly scored 100 points -- that sounds pretty good," Saunders said. "We need to be better defensively."

"I am concerned about our defense," Jackson said. "Their penetration bothered us, and they got some second-shot opportunities. We need to work on that."

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.

"It's the game plan as to whether or not they're going to give up those (3-pointers)," said Lakers forward Rick Fox, who hit three shots from the arc and scored 10 points. "That was the Timberwolves' choice. They decided to make it difficult for Shaq to get off to a good start. He was able to find the open guys and get them the ball."

"We never take a lot of threes, but we certainly don't want a 10-1 margin," Saunders said. "We gave up 27 points from that range. The Lakers are in a situation where they will get a lot of open threes because they have Shaq. When they're making them, they're pretty difficult to stop."

Game Two is Tuesday at Minnesota.

"(Bryant and O'Neal) are two of the dominant players in the NBA, and they're on one team," said Minnesota guard Troy Hudson, who scored 17 points. "That's our game plan, to make the other guys beat us. And tonight, they did."

"Whenever my teammates are hitting like that, you just have to keep them involved," O'Neal said. "If you keep them involved, it's an easy game. ... If we keep playing like this, we'll be fine. I'm very confident that they can hold down the fort."



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