Friday , Jan , 30 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Garnett and Timberwolves visit Kobe and Shaq

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) – Two of the best teams in the Western
Conference battle this evening, when the Los Angeles Lakers go for their third
straight victory against the Midwest Division-leading Minnesota Timberwolves
at the Staples Center.

Outside of the still-injured Karl Malone, the Lakers are nearly healthy now
with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant back in the lineup. It has shown with
back-to-back wins, including Wednesday’s 96-82 win over the Seattle

Los Angeles resides in second place in the Pacific Division — four contests
back of Sacramento.

O’Neal, who had been sidelined 12 games with a strained right calf, played
just 18 minutes and scored seven points with five rebounds in his return to
the lineup. He saw about nine minutes of action in each half. The Lakers
struggled in O’Neal’s absence, going just 5-7.

Rick Fox, making his season debut after off-season foot surgery, scored two
points in eight minutes.

Former Sonic Gary Payton tied a season-high with 24 points in the winning
effort. Derek Fisher had 11 points and stepped up his defense with a career-
high tying six steals, while Bryant added 14 points in the win.

Malone, who was originally supposed to be healed by now, is expected to be
sidelined until mid-to-late March due to his knee injury.

Los Angeles has been excellent at home this season, posting a 20-3 mark. The
Lakers have won six of their last seven home tilts.

The Timberwolves, which own a three-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs for
the Midwest Division lead, saw their five-game win streak come to an end
Wednesday with a 97-90 loss to Golden State.

Latrell Sprewell scored 27 points for the Timberwolves, who had their five-
game winning streak snapped. Kevin Garnett notched 20 points, 20 rebounds and
10 assists for his 14th career triple-double and his fifth career 20-rebound

Sam Cassell registered 14 points for the Timberwolves in the losing effort.

Minnesota was 18-of-22 from the free throw line.

Timberwolves guard Troy Hudson left in the fourth quarter with an ankle
injury. Hudson is questionable for tonight’s game.

Minnesota has won four of six and 11 of its last 15 road tilts to improve 16-8
on foreign hardwood.

Minnesota won the first meeting of the season between these clubs, 106-90, at
Target Center on January 6. The Timberwolves have won three of five and five
of the last eight meetings in this series. However, Minnesota has lost 17 of
its last 18 trips at the Lakers.