MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 6 (Ticker) --Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves were waiting for this one.

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Garnett had 26 points, 18 rebounds and six assists as the Timberwolves ambushed the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers, 106-90, in their first meeting since last year's playoffs.

"This is what everyone wants," Garnett said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like this sometimes. The hard times make you appreciate times like this."

Last April, the Timberwolves finished one game better than the Lakers, earning home-court advantage in their Western Conference first-round series. After grabbing a 2-1 lead, however, Minnesota lost three straight games and was eliminated in the opening round for the seventh straight year.

In the offseason, the Timberwolves traded for Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, prompting Garnett - the best player in franchise history - to sign a five-year contract extension.

With the goal no less than a playoff series win, Minnesota sent a message to Los Angeles, which was missing injured stars Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone.

Cassell scored 15 of his 26 points in the first quarter, which the Wolves closed with a 15-2 run for a 33-18 lead.

"We just had to come out with great energy," said Cassell, who made 11-of-20 shots. "When we are the aggressive team, positive things work out for us. When we are not the aggressive team, we struggle sometimes."

"The first quarter was difficult for us," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "To get down that far - it made it a long game."

Minnesota held a 62-48 halftime lead and built the advantage to 23 points in the third quarter, when Sprewell scored 10 of his 30 points.

A jumper by Garnett gave the Wolves their largest lead at 81-58 with 2:04 left in the third quarter and they led by at least 10 points thereafter, giving coach Flip Saunders his 350th career win.

"We did a great job of offensive execution to start the game and got up big," said Saunders, whose team shot 54 percent (43-of-79). "As a coach or as a player, that's a tough thing. They had a few runs, but we stayed with it."

Without O'Neal and Malone, the Lakers shot just 40 percent (36-of-90) and were outrebounded, 47-40. They have lost five of six after a 20-5 start.

"We aren't happy about that one at all," Jackson said. "We want to be competitive every night, and I didn't feel we really were tonight."

The Lakers were not making excuses for being without two starters. Meanwhile, the Wolves won for the 13th time in their last 16 games despite being without starters Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi and supersub Troy Hudson.

"When they come back, we will have great depth and great flexibility," Saunders said. "When three guys go off like they did tonight, it opens the door for others."

"Truthfully, even last year when we came in here full strength, we got our butts kicked," said Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who scored 20 points.