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Bryant's timing is perfect

LAKERS 92, WOLVES 85: The guard goes from court of law to basketball court to score 31 for 3-1 series lead.

By Associated Press
Published May 28, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant spent one more day in a Colorado courtroom - and one more night at the peak of his game.

After returning to Los Angeles less than two hours before tipoff, Bryant scored 31 and led the Lakers to a 92-85 victory over the Timberwolves in Game 4 of the best-of-seven West final Thursday night.

Shaquille O'Neal added 19 points and 19 rebounds for the Lakers, who took a 3-1 lead and moved to the brink of their fourth trip to the NBA Finals in five seasons.

For the third time in the postseason Bryant returned from a hearing in his upcoming sexual-assault trial to propel the Lakers to victory with a spectacular performance. He poured in 18 points in the third quarter as Los Angeles took a 15-point lead, hitting open jumpers and difficult layups with aplomb.

His previous two playoff games under the same conditions were similarly outstanding: Bryant scored 31 against the Rockets in the first round and 42 against the Spurs in the second round.

Kevin Garnett had 28 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists while desperately trying to keep the Timberwolves close in what he dubbed a must-win game.

But the grim-faced league MVP was no match for the freewheeling Lakers' most thrilling performance of the series.

With everything from Bryant's unbelievable finishes to O'Neal's basket-rocking dunks, Los Angeles finally returned to its showtime roots.

All-Star Sam Cassell's injuries kept him out of the starting lineup and limited him to five minutes for Minnesota. Derek Fisher thrived in Cassell's absence, scoring 15 for the Lakers.

Game 5 is Saturday night in Minneapolis. If the Timberwolves win, Game 6 will be Monday in Los Angeles.

After one of the most tumultuous regular seasons in recent league history, the Lakers have reclaimed the aura of invincibility that surrounded them during three straight championship runs from 2000 to '02.

The Lakers' infighting and confusion have abated while winning seven of their past eight games, and Bryant's teammates say he's more focused than ever.

[Last modified May 28, 2004, 01:00:27]


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