Reeling Portland loses fourth straight


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- All season long the Portland Trail Blazers
have said that it's too early to panic about their mediocre record.

But 29 games into the schedule -- more than one-third of the
season -- the Blazers look like they're getting worse.

Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak each scored 27 points as the
Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 95-93
Sunday night.

The loss was Portland's fourth straight and fifth in six games.
The Blazers are now further below .500 than at any point in the
season (13-16) and have their longest losing streak since last
year's late-season collapse.

"Naturally, I'm not pleased with losing four in a row,"
Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. "But Minnesota is a great team
and we only lost by two in a game in which they played
exceptionally well and shot exceptionally well."

Taking comfort in only losing by two points while falling even
further out of the playoff picture is not the kind of season most
Blazers fans expected.

Chauncey Billups had 17 points and 10 assists for the
Timberwolves, who have won four of five. Garnett also had 16
rebounds and six assists. Szczerbiak added 10 rebounds and six

Rasheed Wallace led the Blazers with 26 points and six rebounds.
Damon Stoudamire had 19 points and 13 assists.

Portland had a chance to tie or win at the buzzer, but Wallace's
jumper with about three seconds remaining was off and Garnett
pulled down the rebound to end the game.

"It's another game we let go," Ruben Patterson said. "We're
struggling. We're trying to get a win, but no team probably wants
us to get a win on them."

Said Stoudamire: "I thought we played well enough to win.
Obviously, we're not winning games and nobody's going to feel sorry
for us. It's always hard to lose but we just have to come back."

The game was close throughout, with 12 ties and 14 lead changes
as neither team could build more than an eight-point lead.

"We've got a very competitive team," Minnesota coach Flip
Saunders said. "There's natural talent -- running, jumping,
quickness and that -- but I think competitiveness is a talent, and
that's one of the things we look for in our players."

Patterson had 19 points and Derek Anderson broke out of a
shooting slump for 16 points for the Blazers.

Szczerbiak was strong in the second half, scoring 18 points and
grabbing seven rebounds. Overall he was 11-for-17 from the field
and made all three of his 3-pointers.

"Wally is playing with an extreme amount of confidence,"
Saunders said. "Our guys look to him and he's not afraid to take
big shots."

Gary Trent added nine points and six rebounds, filling in for
Joe Smith who sat out with a bruised right calf.

"This was a nice win for us on the road," Szczerbiak said.
"We did a good job as a team and held them down when we needed."

The only glaring statistical difference between the two teams
came at the free-throw line, with the Wolves going 12-for-17 while
Portland made just seven trips to the line, making four, tying a
team record for fewest made free throws.

The teams played a fairly clean first half, with Minnesota
relying on 3-point shooting to keep it in the game, shooting
7-for-13 from 3-point distance -- but only 1-for-6 in the second.

Portland built a 50-45 halftime lead thanks to 16 points and
five rebounds from Wallace and 10 points and five assists from

Garnett was held to just two points and one rebound in the
second quarter after dominating the first period with 13 points and
six rebounds.

Billups had a strong half with 10 points and five assists,
including 3-for-3 3-point shooting. He also strained his abdomen
during the game and will be evaluated Monday.

Game notes
Portland center Dale Davis missed the game with a variety
of injuries, including a cervical sprain. ... Before the game
Minnesota activated guard Felipe Lopez and placed guard Maurice
Evans on the injured list. ... Lopez had missed the previous nine
games with a bruised hip. ... Portland activated center Chris
Dudley and placed forward Mitchell Butler on the injured list. ...
Dudley had been out since Dec. 15 with a sore right shoulder. ...
The Wolves finished with their best December ever at 10-5, besting
last year's 9-7 record.