Thursday, April 17, 2003

T-Wolves get home advantage over Lakers



The Associated Press

To capture a fourth straight NBA title, the Los Angeles Lakers must win at least one game in Minneapolis.

The Lakers beat Golden State 117-111 Wednesday night to secure the No. 5 playoff position in the Western Conference. Los Angeles opens the best-of-seven first-round series at the Timberwolves, who will have home-court advantage for the first time in their 14-year history.

"Our goal was to get the home-court advantage all year, and we accomplished that," Minnesota's Wally Szczerbiak said.

With Shaquille O'Neal injured early in the season, the Lakers started slowly, losing 18 of their first 28 games. While they climbed back up in the standings, they couldn't win enough games to get the home court.

Playing an extra game at the Target Center - where Minnesota went 33-8 this season, including 23 of their last 26 - could be the edge the Timberwolves need to finally get out of the first round. They were eliminated in the five-game series each of the past six years.

Game 1 between the Lakers and Wolves is Sunday, the headliner among four intriguing Western Conference matchups. On Saturday, Phoenix opens at San Antonio, Portland plays at Dallas, and Utah is at Sacramento.

In the East, Milwaukee begins at defending conference champion New Jersey and Boston is at Indiana - both on Saturday; Orlando plays at Detroit and New Orleans is at Philadelphia on Sunday.

Portland continued its slide with a 107-93 loss to the Clippers on Wednesday night; the Trail Blazers' 8-10 finish to the regular season dropped them to the No. 6 spot, but they won the last two games against the third-seeded Mavericks.

The top-seeded Spurs lost two of their last three, but before that they won 11 in a row to become the team to beat in the West. They'll have the home court throughout the playoffs. The Suns lost to Seattle on Wednesday night but still finished a full game ahead of Houston for the No. 8 spot.

The seventh-seeded Jazz face the formidable Kings, who lost to the Lakers in a thrilling seven-game conference finals last season and are trying to break through to their first NBA Finals.

The Pistons clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference on Monday night, allowing them to rest Ben Wallace for the regular-season finale against Boston. The league's two-time rebounding champion is expected to be ready for the opener against Orlando.

The Magic slipped to No. 8 spot by losing at Milwaukee 93-87. The Bucks rested Sam Cassell but still won for the eighth time in nine games to improve their playoff standing to seventh.

The second-seeded Nets won the Atlantic Division but finished a game behind Detroit for the East's best record. The Pacers finished No. 3 and will host the sixth-seeded Celtics.

The 76ers beat out the Hornets for the fourth spot and home-court advantage in the series between those teams. The Sixers earned their spot with a 107-87 home win over the Washington Wizards in Michael Jordan's final game as an NBA player.




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