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Sprewell scores game-high 31 points

NEW YORK (AP) -- Latrell Sprewell made a lot of noise in his
return to Madison Square Garden, cursing at the Knicks' owner,
screaming at their bench and yelling in triumph after the best
comeback game by any player to have spent at least five seasons in
New York.

Sprewell scored 31 points in between his yells and taunts to
lead the Minnesota Timberwolves over the team that traded him last
summer, 98-92 Tuesday night.

It was exactly the kind of return Sprewell wanted, with the fans
chanting his name before tipoff and him saving his best for the
fourth quarter -- just as he often did with the Knicks.

Sprewell saved his biggest outbursts for the end, turning to
James Dolan, chairman of the Knicks corporate owner and unleashing
a stream of curses after his 3-pointer gave Minnesota a 94-89 lead
with 1:14 left.

"He knows what I said," Sprewell said. "I got my point
across."

Referee Dan Crawford came over and warned Sprewell to knock if
off during the ensuing timeout, but Sprewell kept it up anyway and
directed his next rant at the Knicks' bench.

The tirade earned him a technical foul that allowed New York to
pull to 95-92 with 30.4 seconds left, but Sam Cassell wrapped up
the victory on a 3-pointer with 11.3 seconds remaining.

Cassell shot 14-for-19 and also scored 31, while Kevin Garnett
had 22 points and 13 rebounds.

The Knicks played their first game under the leadership of new
team president Isiah Thomas, who watched the game from the tunnel
near midcourt with his 15-year-old son Joshua at his side. Thomas
didn't get to see much of New York's best frontcourt player,
however, as Antonio McDyess sat out the second half with a sore and
swollen knee after going scoreless in the first half.

"It's not a setback, it's part of the process," McDyess said.
"It's one game, I can take that."

By scoring 31, Sprewell broke the record of 28 points for an
ex-Knick in his comeback game set by Walt Frazier when he played
for Cleveland on Oct. 25, 1977.

Allan Houston led New York with 26, and Keith Van Horn -- the
player the Knicks acquired in exchange for Sprewell, scored 20 --
only two in the fourth quarter.

Sprewell's verbal barbs weren't limited to what he shouted while
on the court. He also took credit for being partly responsible for
the shakeup at the Garden a day earlier in which team president
Scott Layden was fired and Thomas was hired as his replacement.

"I thought it was interesting that they would announce that on
the eve of my return. Anybody can see what's going on there. It's
not hard to figure out," he said before the game.

Sprewell began screaming at Dolan during the first quarter, the
first expletive-filled harangue making Dolan blush. Sprewell turned
and shouted at Dolan several more times during the course of the
game, with Dolan eventually smiling at the taunts.

Sprewell holds a grudge against Dolan for the trade that sent
him to Minnesota, and he took offense when Dolan said during
training camp that the Knicks had improved their character with the
trade.

"All the little games he's been playing this year, I let him do
the talking earlier. I'm just glad I could do the talking now,"
Sprewell said.

It was unclear what prompted Sprewell to unleash his most
vicious taunts at the Knicks bench late in the fourth quarter. New
York assistant coach Lon Kruger was among those yelling back at
him.

"I don't agree with what he did," Houston said. "He should
have let his performance speak for (itself)."

Sprewell finished 9-for-20 from the field and 12-for-14 at the
line. Van Horn was 5-for-15 from the field and 10-for-10 at the
line.

Game notes
Houston made 39 straight free throws, two shy of franchise
record, before missing one in the second half. ... Minnesota coach
Flip Saunders said there was no truth to reports last week that the
Wolves had discussed a swap of Troy Hudson to Cleveland for Darius
Miles. "We won't trade Troy Hudson," Saunders said. ...
Sprewell's return contributed to the Knicks' fifth sellout crowd of
the season.