SEATTLE (AP) -- Randy Wittman ran through a list of complaints, revolving around poor defense and shoddy late-game execution.
But the Minnesota Timberwolves coach put a qualifier on it all.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm jubilant," Wittman said.
And why not? In a little over a week, the Timberwolves have won more road games than in the previous four months.
Ryan Gomes led seven Minnesota players in double figures with 23 points and 15 rebounds, and the Timberwolves pulled away in the final 16 minutes to beat the Seattle SuperSonics 121-116 on Friday night.
The teams, two of the three worst in the Western Conference with a combined 99 losses and battling to have more pingpong balls in the NBA draft lottery, took advantage of the other's deficiencies to play an entertaining, fast-paced, style. But when Minnesota decided to put forth a little defensive effort in the final 1 1/2 quarters, the Timberwolves managed to pull away.
"Coach spoke to us at halftime and said we had no problems on offense, our problem was on defense," Timberwolves guard Randy Foye said. "We picked it up."
Foye scored 21 points and Al Jefferson added 16 as the Timberwolves moved closer to the Sonics, trying to climb out of last place in the Northwest Division. Minnesota won its third straight road game, after winning just two of its first 28. It's another sign of improvement for a team whose marketing slogan back in the Twin Cities has become "Let's Build It."
It was also another lesson in Wittman's education of the young, rebuilding team. The Timberwolves ignored the defensive end in the first half, content to try and win a shootout with the equally struggling and rebuilding Sonics. But Minnesota proved in the second half that sometimes just a little defense is enough.
"There are lessons to be learned in these final games and that's what I'm trying to do here," Wittman said. "We're not just going to ride this out. ... We've got to learn and grow."
"They didn't necessarily play well defensively, but they played better than we did," Seattle coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "We're not going to win if we don't defend."
The Timberwolves took control in the latter stages of the third quarter, taking advantage of Seattle's foul trouble and converting at the free throw line. Minnesota scored 10 straight points at the line, part of 16-2 run that was capped by consecutive 3-pointers from Rashad McCants and Gomes for a 92-82 lead.
"He just had a monster game," Wittman said of Gomes. "I couldn't ask Ryan to do any more at either end."
Minnesota then scored the first four points of the fourth quarter, pushing the lead to 101-88 on McCants' basket with 11 minutes left. Seattle started chipping away, and Green's contorting three-point play with 6:05 left got the Sonics within 105-100.
But Jefferson scored consecutive baskets for Minnesota, the second bullying through a double-team of Durant and Chris Wilcox to put the Timberwolves up 109-103. Kirk Snyder's three-point play moments later pushed the lead back to eight. Seattle never got closer than five.
The first half was a scoring exhibition, a combination of fine perimeter shooting and matador defense by both teams. At one point in the first quarter, the teams combined to make 15 of 16 shots, only to better that total near the end of the half by combining for 14 consecutive makes.
"First half, it was a circus. Guys were scoring everywhere," Synder said.
Seattle shot nearly 64 percent in the first half but could only manage a 60-57 halftime lead thanks to Minnesota's own hot shooting.
Minnesota was without C Michael Doleac (personal reasons), G Sebastian Telfair (ankle) and F Antoine Walker. None of the three made the trip to the Northwest for the brief road swing in Seattle and Portland. ... Seattle recalled C Mouhamed Sene from Idaho of the NBA Development League. Sene was in uniform but did not play. ... Seattle is the first Western Conference team to lose 50 games.
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