Sam I Am scores 23 in just 22 minutes

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Sam Cassell had such a good game,
he may have earned back his old job as Minnesota's starting point
guard -- even though coach Kevin McHale wasn't willing to make that

Cassell played his best game in weeks, scoring 23 points in just
22 minutes Saturday to lead the Timberwolves to a 96-75 rout of the
New Jersey Nets.

Cassell shot 10-for-13 and had four rebounds and three assists
for the Timberwolves, who had a surprisingly easy time against an
opponent in similar straits -- a few games out of a playoff spot
with the regular season winding down.

Cassell, who has missed eight of 13 games this month and 23 of
the last 39 due to a hamstring injury, had 10 points in the second
quarter when Minnesota took control, then made all the big plays at
the start of the fourth quarter when the Wolves put the game out of

It helped the Timberwolves survive a sluggish game from Kevin
Garnett, who had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists but
shot 0-for-7 in the first half.

"He looks good, man. He looks like the old Sam," said Garnett,
who was noncommittal on whether he would endorse moving Cassell
back into the starting five in place of Troy Hudson.

Cassell hasn't started a game since Feb. 8, and he's reached 20
points just twice since Jan. 7.

But with Hudson contributing little on a consistent basis and
Minnesota trying to make up ground on the Denver Nuggets for the
eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, it may be
time to reinsert Cassell for the final 12 games of the season.

"We'll see how everything shakes out," said coach Kevin
McHale, declining to be more specific.

Said Cassell: "If he decides to put me back in the starting
lineup, that's fine. But it doesn't matter who starts, it's who
finishes. I know I'm going to be on the court in the fourth

Cassell was an All-Star last season when Minnesota had the best
record in the West, but shoulder and hamstring injuries have
limited him this season, and McHale has grown weary of wondering
when Cassell will deem himself 100 percent.

If the hamstring injury bothered Cassell against the Nets, it
didn't show.

"I know for a fact I'm a starting point guard in this league,"
Cassell said. "I'll do what this team needs me to do right now.
I've been hurt for a while, and I need to make up for lost ground.
That's what I'm trying to do."

Minnesota won its third in a row and moved two games over .500
for the first time since Feb. 2. The Timberwolves began the day
ninth in the West, three games behind Denver.

Vince Carter scored 16 points and Jason Kidd had seven points,
eight assists and 10 rebounds, but neither player exhibited the
energy or intensity to match that of the Timberwolves.

New Jersey remained in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with
its second straight loss following a five-game winning streak.

"We were very lackluster," Carter said.

"We can't come out and give games away," Kidd said. "We
didn't give the effort in the last two. We were kind of passive."

Minnesota had an 11-0 run in the second quarter for a 33-20
lead, and an 18-footer by Cassell made him 5-for-6 in the quarter
and gave the Timberwolves their largest lead of the first half,

New Jersey pulled to 62-55 in the third quarter, but Cassell hit
a 19-footer, rebounded a miss by Carter and then nailed a 15-footer
to help get the lead back to 14 going into the fourth.

Cassell started the final period with an 18-footer and a
3-pointer, then assisted on baskets by John Thomas and Eddie
Griffin to make it 80-61.

"You could feel it in the room, guys were ready to play. We
knew this one of the biggest games of the season, and we took it
like that," Garnett said.

Game notes
Kidd passed Terry Porter (7,160) for 10th place on the
NBA's career assists list. ... Carter failed to reach 20 points for
just the second time in the past 28 games. ... Minnesota improved
to 14-15 against Eastern Conference teams. The Wolves were 24-6
last season. ... The win was the Wolves' first in an afternoon
game. They had been 0-4, and they'll play another matinee Sunday
against the Clippers. ... Minnesota won in New Jersey for the first
time since March 24, 2000, snapping a four-game losing streak.


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