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O'Neal just shrugs it off

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal waded toward the basket with
Mark Madsen draped across his shoulders like a Minnesota winter
coat. Shaq looked to the officials, his eyes bugging with
frustration and disbelief.

Though the whistle never blew on that play, the Timberwolves
hacked, smacked and whacked their way to a close game -- until Kobe
Bryant finally showed up to back his teammate one more time.

O'Neal had 22 points and 17 rebounds, and Bryant awoke from a
scoreless first half for 22 points in the Los Angeles Lakers'
100-89 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday

Los Angeles did it the hard way in what's shaping up as an ugly
series without a hint of Showtime. With plenty of free throws and
just enough defense, the Lakers ground out a victory against the
Timberwolves' vintage Hack-a-Shaq defense in the second half to
take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"It's far from being done," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders
said. "We'll foul Shaq 50 times, if that's what it takes."

"If he fouls me 40 times, I'd probably only go to the line
15," O'Neal replied.

Shaq was a miserable 8-for-22 from the line, with 19 attempts
after halftime. His anger grew with each foul, and he stared down
the Minnesota bench while leaving the game in the final minute.

But O'Neal has proved he'll take any punishment for his
overwhelming presence and underwhelming free-throw stroke -- as long
as the reward is a ring.

"My percentage isn't pretty, but I'm not going to miss them
all," O'Neal said. "That hasn't worked at all this millennium,
and it's not going to work."

Game 4 is Thursday night. Earlier that day, Bryant is scheduled
for a court appearance in Eagle, Colo.

The series returns to Minnesota for Game 5 on Saturday.

The Diesel has a way of wearing down everything -- defenders, Los
Angeles' inconsistencies, even that lid on the basket when he's at
the line. He was 2-for-13 before finishing on a Rick Barry-esque
6-for-9 streak.

"Shaq's used to that," Bryant said. "(Madsen) has been
hacking Shaq the past couple of years at every practice. Flip
normally doesn't go to the Hack-a-Shaq. Tonight, he tried it, but
Shaq did a pretty good job."

Gary Payton scored 14 of his 18 points in the first quarter for
the Lakers, who got double-figure scoring from all five of their
starters for the first time in the playoffs.

Kevin Garnett had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the
Timberwolves, but the league MVP went 16{ minutes between field
goals in the second half and eventually fouled out.

"I didn't play well at all," Garnett said. "My mentality was
more defensive tonight. I tried to stay active as much as possible,
but I got a couple of fouls, and that made me a little stagnant."

Wally Szczerbiak scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half,
including 14 straight to end the third quarter -- but Minnesota
never led after the opening minutes. Bryant clinched the victory
with back-to-back 3-pointers, the last with 4:46 left to put the
Lakers up 91-74.

Sam Cassell had 18 points in 26 minutes, but played just one
minute in the fourth quarter because of the back spasms and hip
problems which limited him to 43 seconds in Game 2. Latrell
Sprewell had another down game, going 3-for-12 before hitting four
late shots to finish with 18 points.

No vigilante play resulted from both teams' veiled threats of
rough play after the combative end to Minnesota's series-tying
victory in Game 2, which included seven technical fouls and Karl
Malone's ejection for a flagrant foul against Darrick Martin.

Bryant was scoreless in the first half of a playoff game for the
first time since 1998, but he didn't appear to be avoiding shots as
he did in his infamous performance at Sacramento late in the
regular season. The Lakers got along just fine without him --
particularly when Payton had his first good stretch of the series.

The first half was an unlikely scoring duel between point
guards, with Cassell finishing the first half with 15 points,
including three 3-pointers. In the second half, Los Angeles forced
the ball inside to O'Neal -- and he kept the Lakers steadily ahead
by taking all the abuse Minnesota could dish out.

O'Neal went 9-for-11 on free throws in Game 1, but reverted to
form since. With his first miss in Game 3, he passed Michael Jordan
atop the career list for playoff free throws attempted.

Game notes
An hour before tipoff, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was
chatting with a reporter on the court when an usher approached.
"Sir, you've got to move! There's a player coming!" the usher
said. "They're my players!" the billionaire replied with a grin.
... Lakers G Kareem Rush limped off the court after playing just 28
seconds in the first quarter. Rush has been bothered by a sprained
right foot, but returned in the second half. ... Dozens of
celebrities were in attendance, but the biggest cheers went to Mr.