MINNEAPOLIS (AP) --Kevin Garnett turned in another MVP
performance. Key contributions from his teammates won the game.
Garnett had his fifth triple-double of the season and Wally
Szczerbiak scored 20 points as the Wolves beat the Portland Trail
Blazers 111-95 Sunday.
Garnett finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for
the Timberwolves, who had lost their previous two games. Szczerbiak
had five 3-pointers and 18 of his points in the second half, and
Joe Smith (12 points) and Marc Jackson (15) helped fill the inside
void left by Rasho Nesterovic's sprained right ankle.
"We were feeding off K.G. and the ball was swinging for open
shots and we knocked them down,'' Szczerbiak said.
In a possible first-round preview, Minnesota gained ground on
the Blazers for the fourth playoff spot in the Western Conference
and home-court advantage. Portland entered the game with a 1½-game
lead on the Timberwolves, who've never had home-court advantage in
their previous six playoff appearances.
"A basketball court is a basketball court,'' said Kendall Gill,
who had eight points on 4-for-8 shooting.
"It's going to make for a good series if we do happen to match
up against them.''
Smith started in place of Nesterovic, who missed his first game
of the season, and shot 6-for-10. Minnesota got banged around by
Portland's bigger frontcourt but still outrebounded the Blazers
Jackson added 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the
season and played a season-high 28 minutes.
"We knew that with Rasho out, Jackson would get a lot of
time,'' Portland's Bonzi Wells said. "He can play, we know that.
But he hasn't gotten a lot lately.''
Rasheed Wallace led the Blazers with 18 points.
After a first half in which neither team led by more than four
points, Minnesota came out with an aggressive man-to-man defense
and outscored Portland 15-7 to lead 63-51. Portland cut its deficit
to four late in the third quarter.
But Minnesota opened the fourth with an 11-6 run to stretch the
lead to 85-73. The Wolves deflated the Blazers with a 10-2 spurt
that included consecutive 3-pointers by Szczerbiak, who shot
6-for-11 after halftime.
"We had (Szczerbiak) under control early,'' Wells said. "But
he lit it up in the second half. We just let the game get out of
hand in the last quarters.''
"They stepped up their level of play, that's the bottom line,''
Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "Their level of play rose after
halftime and we didn't play with the same level of energy we played
with in the first half.''
Garnett left the game late in the fourth period to an "MVP!''
chant from the Wolves' second consecutive sellout crowd.
"This was definitely a must win,'' Garnett said. "A game both
teams felt that we needed. A huge, huge win.''
Portland's Jeff McInnis returned after missing Friday's game
against Philadelphia with a broken nose. Wearing a protective face
mask, McInnis finished with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
"We really wanted to make a statement today,'' McInnis said.
"But they came out and made a statement. That would be a great
series, I think, once they get all their guys healthy and once we
get our guys healthy and get Scottie (Pippen) back.''
Wallace was hit with a technical early in the fourth for
arguing with the officials after making a shot. ... Pippen missed
his third straight game with a knee injury. ... Wolves G Rod
Strickland (groin) missed his 24th straight game. Strickland has
been practicing for the last few days.
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