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Garnett garners Grizzlies' support in MVP race

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Kevin Garnett's case for MVP continues to get stronger.

Garnett made eight consecutive field goals in the second half and finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds as the Minnesota Timberwolves ended the Memphis Grizzlies' six-game winning streak, 96-80 Tuesday night.

Garnett, who shot just 5-for-15 in the first half, made nine of 11 shots after the break as the Wolves beat the Grizzlies for the eighth consecutive time. It was Garnett's 18th consecutive double-double and his NBA-best 59th of the season.

Even the Grizzlies were defending Garnett's MVP credentials.

"That's an MVP right there,'' said Shane Battier, who led Memphis with 18 points. "He came back in the game and hit some big buckets for them.''

Garnett, however, continues to shun individual accolades while focusing on his team's challenge -- securing homecourt advantage in a playoff series for the first time. The victory moved Minnesota within a half-game of idle Portland for the Western Conference's No. 4 playoff spot.

The Wolves completed a brutal nine-game stretch against Western Conference foes in which they went 4-5. Minnesota now plays just once in the next six days, Friday at San Antonio.

"What we need right now is rest,'' Garnett said. "We
understand how important the momentum is, but we'll have some
practice time to work on some things, which is a plus.''

Memphis shot just 38 percent in losing for the first time since
March 3. All six of the wins came against teams currently slated
for the lottery.

Minnesota also struggled from the field, shooting only 39
percent in the first half. But Garnett hit four shots in a row in
the third quarter as the Wolves built a 68-56 lead.

Earl Watson's layup with 8:47 left in the fourth quarter brought
the Grizzlies within 74-70, the closest Memphis had been since
early in the second quarter.

But Garnett made four more shots in a 12-2 run that put
Minnesota up 86-72 with 4:55 remaining. Garnett left the court to a
standing ovation in the final minute.

"KG really carried us,'' teammate Wally Szczerbiak said.

Both teams were missing starters -- Minnesota center Rasho Nesterovic missed his second consecutive game with a sprained right ankle, while Memphis' Mike Miller sat out his third straight with back spasms.

Marc Jackson had his second consecutive double-double for the Wolves with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Jackson played 34 minutes in place of Nesterovic, crediting his production to the increased playing time.

"I'm not worried about making a mistake,'' Jackson said. "You can't play your best when you have a short leash.''

Rod Strickland returned the Wolves lineup after missing the past
24 games with a groin strain. But he played only five minutes in
the first half before going to the locker room after reaggravating
the injury. Strickland returned to the bench in the second half but did not play.

Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Strickland could have returned if necessary.

Both teams struggled in the first half, shooting below 40 percent. Memphis hit five of its first six shots but only made 11 of 36 thereafter, and the Grizzlies trailed 43-37 at halftime.

"They disrupted our rhythm by taking away certain passes in the
offense and made us react to them,'' Battier said.

Game notes
The Timberwolves placed seldom-used guard Igor Rakocevic on
the injured list when they activated Strickland. ... Grizzlies
coach Hubie Brown on Garnett's case for MVP: "What blows me away
is that he's 15th in the league in assists (with six a game, his
total Tuesday). That means he has more assists than many starting
point guards.'' Of the 14 players with more assists per game than
Garnett, only Kobe Bryant (13th) and Sam Cassell (14th) do not
start at point guard, and Cassell was Milwaukee's starting point
guard before it acquired Gary Payton at the trading deadline. ...
The Wolves play just once in the next six days, Friday at San
Antonio. Their 12 remaining games are the fewest in the NBA. ...
Minnesota's Anthony Peeler played in his 700th career game. ... The
Grizzlies are 0-for-7 against the Wolves since they moved to
Memphis.

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