Cassell chips in with 19 points, 11 assists

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves are finally
injury-free and ready to make another title run.

Kevin Garnett began his quest to repeat as league MVP with 28
points and 20 rebounds, and the Timberwolves beat the New York
Knicks 99-93 in Wednesday's season opener.

"We've always said that when we're all healthy, this is a
special team," said Garnett, who led the Wolves to the Western
Conference finals last spring -- losing to the Los Angeles Lakers
with point guards Sam Cassell and Troy Hudson out with injuries.

Latrell Sprewell, whose complaints about his lack of a contract
extension were the talk of the town this week, had 10 points
against his former team.

Cassell added 19 points and 11 assists for the Timberwolves, who
revamped their roster before last season only to see Hudson, Wally
Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi get hurt and miss most of it.

Stephon Marbury, also up against his old club, led the Knicks
with 27 points. Jamal Crawford, in his first game with New York,
capably filled Allan Houston's spot in the starting lineup with 22
points on 10-for-23 shooting.

Seventeen of those came in the first half, though, and Crawford
was silent when Minnesota's stopper, Trenton Hassell, guarded him
in the fourth quarter. Crawford came from Chicago in a summer

"I like what he's doing," said Lenny Wilkens, beginning his
first full season as New York's coach. "He's going to get better
and better."

A free-flowing game came to a sloppy end, thanks largely to
Minnesota's defense. The Knicks went the final 7:57 without a
basket. Michael Sweetney's dunk cut the lead to 88-86, but that was
as close as they came.

New York, which went 39-43 last season and was swept by New
Jersey in the first round of the playoffs, has a young, small team
that's short on defense. Sweetney, in his second year, and rookie
Trevor Ariza played extensively in the fourth quarter.

"That builds character for them as players," Marbury said.
"We're expecting great things from them down the road."

Marbury, whose dislike for sharing the spotlight with Garnett
led to his trade to the Nets in 1999, had a chance to pull New York
within four points at the foul line -- but he missed one of two
shots to leave the lead at 98-93 with 11.2 seconds remaining.

"We played against a really good team," Marbury said. "The
only positive is that we played hard the whole way."

The Timberwolves, who moved into the new Northwest Division this
season, are favorites to challenge for the NBA championship, partly
due to their depth and balance -- and they were on display against
the Knicks.

"That's one of the dangerous things about our team," Sprewell
said. "If one guy isn't going well, we have other guys who can
pick it up."

Someone was always there to pick up the scoring slack.
Szczerbiak had nine of his 12 points in the first quarter. Garnett
scored 10 straight points over the end of the first and beginning
of the second. Reserve Fred Hoiberg hit a pair of 3-pointers before
halftime, and Cassell contributed six of the last 11 points of the
first half to give his team a 58-51 lead.

Sprewell made back-to-back 3s early in the third to make it
69-59 Minnesota, and Hudson did the same late in the third and
early in the fourth to give the Timberwolves a five-point cushion
after Marbury cut the lead to 81-79 with a 3 of his own.

Assuming everyone stays healthy, coach Flip Saunders faces a
tricky proposition finding room on the floor for his top eight or
nine players.

"Some nights one guy might not get as much time as he wants,"
Hudson said. "But to win a championship you've got to make some

Game notes
Houston, who sat out the final 32 games of the regular
season and the playoffs last year with chronic pain in his left
knee, is on the injured list. He couldn't remember the last time he
couldn't play in a season opener, including college and high
school. "It's going to be hard, but it's a long season," Houston
said following the team's morning shootaround. "When those lights
come on in May and June, that's when I want to be out there." ...
The Wolves have won 10 straight home openers. ... The Knicks have
dropped six of their last seven against Minnesota.