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Game 4: Cassell plays only five minutes

LOS ANGELES -- Despite his pain, Sam Cassell just couldn't
stand to sit and watch.

So the All-Star point guard gave it a go in the third quarter of
Game 3 in the Western Conference finals.

For a brief period, his presence seemed to spark the Minnesota
Timberwolves. Then reality set in.

Hampered by recurring back spasms and an injured hip, Cassell
lasted less than five minutes and the Timberwolves lost to the Los
Angeles Lakers 92-85 on Thursday night to fall behind 3-1 in the
best-of-seven series.

Cassell said he made the decision to try and play at halftime,
explaining: "I'm a fighter, man, I'm a fighter" as he left the
Timberwolves' locker room afterward.

"He's obviously hurting really bad," teammate Wally Szczerbiak said. "It doesn't look like we're going to get much from him in
the next game."

Game 5 is Saturday night in Minnesota.

"It was a valiant effort," Szczerbiak said. "It's the
playoffs -- he's trying to give us whatever he can. Everyone who
stepped on the floor left it all out there. We just came up a
little short."

Cassell scored 18 points in 26 minutes Tuesday in Game 3 after
playing only 43 seconds two nights earlier. Problem was, he was
able to play only seven minutes in the second half, including one
in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers pulled away for a 100-89
victory.

Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said Cassell wasn't moving
around well in the team's shootaround earlier Thursday or before
the game, so the decision was made to go with Darrick Martin in his
place.

Cassell watched from the bench during the first half as the
Lakers took a 45-40 lead.

After making jumper after jumper between halves, Cassell rode an
exercise bike near the Minnesota bench before entering the game
with 7:40 left in the third quarter and the Lakers leading 54-47.

Cassell made a 3-pointer six seconds later, and Minnesota would
soon draw within two points. But with Kobe Bryant getting 16
points, the Lakers outscored the Timberwolves 19-6 to finish the
third period for a 75-60 lead.

Game over, and if the past can be trusted, the Timberwolves will
soon be history as well.

After his 3-pointer, Cassell misfired on three shots and was
removed for good with 2:44 left in the third period and the Lakers
leading 69-58.

"Guys get hurt, that's part of what this game is about,"
Saunders said.

When asked about Saturday night, Saunders replied: "My three
favorite words I'm saying right now: 'Gametime decision.' "

Trenton Hassell, Minnesota's other starting guard, said he felt
bad for Cassell.

"He got us to this point, we need him so much," Hassell said.
"He's a big-time competitor. He gave us all he could for the few
minutes he played.

"He's hurting -- you can see it in his face. He's a great player
in situations like this. He's got two rings. That's why he's so
important, because he's been there and done that. He's a winner."

The Timberwolves added Cassell and Latrell Sprewell this season
to support MVP Kevin Garnett in their attempt to become
championship contenders following seven years of being eliminated
in the first round of the playoffs -- most recently by the Lakers
last spring.

It worked well. The Timberwolves won a franchise-record 58
games, most in the Western Conference, and, for the first time,
advanced past the opening round by eliminating Denver.

Then they got past Sacramento to qualify for the conference
finals.

Now, the Timberwolves will try to become the eighth team in NBA
history to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-1.

Should they accomplish the feat, they'll upset even larger odds:
Teams coached by the Lakers' Phil Jackson are 43-0 in series when
they've led, and Jackson-coached teams are 9-0 in conference
finals.

An 11-year veteran, Cassell averaged 19.8 points this season
while sitting out just one game. His career average is 16.4 points.

"Our offense obviously isn't the same without him," reserve
guard Fred Hoiberg said. "When we're forced to run a half-court
game, we're kind of lost without a point guard."

Previously, Cassell played for the Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. He helped the Rockets win championships
in 1994 and 1995, his first two NBA seasons.