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Minnesota hitting their stride late in the season

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves are in desperation
mode, and Kevin Garnett can't stand it.

But last season's MVP knows all he can do is make the best of a
bad situation.

Garnett had 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and six
teammates scored in double figures as the Timberwolves beat the Los
Angeles Lakers 105-96 Thursday night for their fifth straight
victory, matching a season-high.

"You can consider this our best basketball," Garnett said.
"Better any time than never."

The Timberwolves won 15 of their first 23 games, lost 22 of
their next 35, and now have won 10 of their last 14.

"It's terrible. I hate playing catch up," Garnett said. "This
is the bed we made, so we've got to lay in it. We've got to win
almost all the games left. I don't know anybody who likes to play
like that. I know I don't. You can't take anything for granted.
That's what I've learned through all this stuff."

Los Angeles and Minnesota met in last year's Western Conference
finals, with Los Angeles winning in six games. Never before have
two teams that met in the conference finals one season failed to
make the playoffs the next, but the Timberwolves (38-34) and Lakers
(33-38) are both in jeopardy of missing out.

The Timberwolves are in ninth place in the West, two games back
in the race for the final playoff berth with 10 games remaining.
The Lakers, who have lost nine of 10, are 10th in the West and 6½
games off the pace with 11 to play. Memphis and Denver, who are
tied and hold down the last two playoff spots in the West, both
have 12 games left.

"We got a game we had to get," Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale
said. "We played very good defense in the first half, very good
offense in the second half."

The Timberwolves shot 24-of-40 (60 percent) after halftime and
41-of-78 (52.6 percent) overall.

Trenton Hassell scored 16 points; Sam Cassell scored all but two
of his 15 points in the fourth quarter; Wally Szczerbiak added 15;
Latrell Sprewell had 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists;
Troy Hudson scored 11, and Michael Olowokandi had 10 points and 11
rebounds for the Timberwolves.

"We're finally healthy as a ballclub," said Cassell, who shot
5-of-6 in the fourth quarter. "We're just playing basketball,
we're not worried about ifs, ands or buts. We're just putting forth
the effort -- that's the important thing."

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 26 points, eight rebounds and
six assists. Caron Butler added 22 points, Chris Mihm had 11 points
and 10 rebounds, and Chucky Atkins added 11 points.

The Lakers are 7-33 when the opposition scores 100 or more
points.

"Our problem is on the defensive end," Bryant said. "We score
enough points, it's just stopping teams when we need to."

Bryant realizes the Timberwolves have had their share of ups and
downs this season, from injuries to contract controversies to a
coaching change.

"With the drama that they had going on over there, it's kind of
tough to recover from -- plus their injuries," he said. "So I'm
sure it's been a long year for them."

Bryant could say the same thing about the Lakers.

Butler made two baskets and Mihm added two free throws to cut
Minnesota's lead to 90-83 with 5:16 remaining. But a basket by
Hassell and five straight points by Cassell gave the Timberwolves a
14-point lead with 3½ minutes left. The Lakers didn't pose a
serious threat after that.

The Timberwolves took command by outscoring the Lakers 21-11 to
finish the third quarter for a 77-64 lead. Garnett and Sprewell
scored six points each and Hassell added four during the spurt, and
Szczerbiak made a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left in the period to
complete the run.

The Timberwolves led 42-38 at halftime. Bryant was the only
player in double figures at that stage with 10 points.

Atkins scored nine points in the first 2½ minutes as Los Angeles
took a 12-4 lead. The Timberwolves responded by outscoring the
Lakers 19-7 during the remainder of the first quarter to go ahead
23-19. Garnett had seven points and seven rebounds in the period.

Game notes
Lamar Odom, the Lakers' second-leading scorer, sat out his
sixth straight game because of a strained left shoulder. ... The
Lakers entered needing two 3-pointers to surpass the franchise
record of 551 set in the 1996-97 season. They got them in the first
48 seconds on long-range shots by Bryant and Atkins. ... The Lakers
have qualified for the playoffs for 10 straight years and the
Timberwolves have done so for eight straight. ... Atkins sustained
a cut over his right eye late in the first quarter that required
treatment, and he sat out 8½ minutes before returning. ... After
getting his nine quick points, Atkins scored only two more on a
basket early in the third quarter.

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