LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal wasn't in a big hurry to have surgery on his arthritic right big toe during the offseason, and he's been rather slowly working his way back into top form.
"I'm getting there. I'm pretty close. I think we have 20 something games to get it right, but when the playoffs come, it is a different attitude, a different mentality, a different focus," the Los Angeles Lakers' center said Friday night after he had 40 points and 14 rebounds during a 106-96 win over Minnesota.
"When it's time to be there, I'll be there, and everybody knows that."
O'Neal, freshly turned 31, played the game with kid-like energy and glee, blocking five shots, logging four assists and running the floor with gusto.
"He's feeling good and we're going to continue to go to him," said Kobe Bryant, who scored 30 points. "It felt good to see how light he was on his toes. I haven't seen him this agile in a while.
"I think we're all reassured by that."
Coach Phil Jackson added: "He looked good. His movement was good and he played with energy. Maybe it had something to do with having a birthday. Who knows?"
O'Neal, whose birthday was on Thursday, had toe surgery in September, played for the first time in late November and just now is looking dominant again.
The three-time defending NBA champion Lakers, who struggled earlier in the season, won for the eighth time in nine games. The victory was only their second in their last six games against the Kevin Garnett-led Timberwolves.
Garnett, guarded mostly by Mark Madsen, was held to 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting in the loss -- Minnesota's third in a row to start a five-game West Coast trip.
"The difference tonight was that Shaq played incredibly aggressively for 48 minutes," Garnett said. "We didn't necessarily rotate to Shaq like we were supposed to do and he made us pay for it."
Late in the second quarter, O'Neal blocked Wally Szczerbiak's shot, tossed the ball to Derek Fisher to start a fast break, then hustled down the court, got the rebound when Bryant missed a short jumper, and put the ball into the hoop.
In the third quarter, the Lakers' 7-foot-2, 340-pound center dribbled the length of the court on a fast break, but ran over Rasho Nesterovic in the lane and drew a charging foul.
In the fourth quarter, O'Neal put a spin move on Nesterovic, laid the ball gently into the hoop and seemed almost to prance as he ran back upcourt.
"Shaq was just in his flow," said Nesterovic, who led Minnesota with 19 points.
Troy Hudson hit a running 59-footer at the buzzer to end the third quarter and pull the Timberwolves within 78-73. But Minnesota got no closer than five points the rest of the way.
Garnett, who had 10 rebounds, was particularly frustrated that Madsen, starting while Samaki Walker recovers fully from a sprained ankle, scored a season-high 10 points against him.
"I am a defender who really enjoys seeing the player I'm guarding not score, so I was really ticked off," Garnett said.
Notes: Garnett and the Lakers' Robert Horry were called for double technicals with 1:49 remaining after Szczerbiak and Fisher collided. Fisher and Szczerbiak were called for a double foul.
Szczerbiak 3-8 1-2 8, Garnett 6-17 3-6 15, Nesterovic 9-10 1-1 19, Peeler 6-8 0-0 15, Hudson 4-12 3-4 12, Wilks 2-4 0-0 4, Gill 2-4 2-2 6, M.Jackson 1-5 5-6 7, Smith 1-2 0-0 2, Trent 3-3 0-0 6, Rakocevic 0-1 0-0 0, Woods 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 38-75 15-22 96.
L.A. LAKERS (106)
Fox 5-13 2-3 13, Madsen 5-7 0-0 10, O'Neal 16-25 8-14 40, Bryant 12-24 4-4 30, Fisher 3-14 3-5 9, Horry 0-1 0-0 0, George 2-6 0-0 4, Pargo 0-1 0-0 0, Walker 0-1 0-0 0, Rush 0-1 0-0 0, Shaw 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 43-94 17-26 106.
Minnesota 22 21 30 23 -- 96
L.A. Lakers 29 24 25 28 -- 106
3-Point Goals--Minnesota 5-10 (Peeler 3-3, Szczerbiak 1-2, Hudson 1-3, Garnett 0-1, Gill 0-1), L.A. Lakers 3-8 (Bryant 2-4, Fox 1-3, Fisher 0-1). Fouled out--Nesterovic. Rebounds--Minnesota 49 (Garnett, Szczerbiak 10), L.A. Lakers 55 (O'Neal 14). Assists--Minnesota 22 (Garnett 6), L.A. Lakers 23 (Bryant 7). Total fouls--Minnesota 28, L.A. Lakers 21. Technicals--Minnesota coach Saunders, Garnett, L.A. Lakers Defensive Three Second, Horry, Fox. A--18,997 (18,997).
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.