Wed, Jun 02, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Los Angeles gets past an attack by hungry Wolves

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

Monday offered a nervous, uncertain game. The Lakers opened like a determined team, playing hard and with the kind of energy that has not always been there -- even in the postseason.

They pushed their early lead to as many as 13 points in the first quarter. But with 9:44 to play in the second quarter, Kobe picked up his third foul and sat. Officials kept their whistles wet, Shaq picking up his fourth foul just before the half ended.

Boos rained down on the officials like never before heard at Staples. For a moment, the game could have been in Philadelphia.

The Timberwolves took the lead in the third quarter, and the game's intensity only built. Malone, matched against the younger and more athletic Garnett, played with desperation.

With one quarter to go, the Lakers, looking at having to return to Minnesota for a dangerous Game 7, responded one last time.

"There have been enough fluctuations this year where you might question our ability to win a championship," Fox said. "But fortunately in series basketball, when you don't play to the level of your opponent in a couple of games, you can still have the opportunity to win the series."

A Rush 3-pointer gave the Lakers back the lead. And they slowly kept building it, finally creating distance between themselves and the Timberwolves.

Despite everything, they were going to play for a championship.

"With all the things we've been through this year, the guys just continue to play," Malone said. "I really cannot describe it. These guys were unbelievable all year long.

"When you are injured and shouldn't play, this is why I go out and play. This is why I went out and played tonight.

"This is a great feeling and a great opportunity to get out there and get it done."

Right where they were supposed to be.

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