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Nuggets kept at arm's length

4/19/2004

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The playoffs started, and Sam Cassell was
simply clutch -- the exact reason the Minnesota Timberwolves wanted
him on their team.

Cassell tied a career high with 40 points, Kevin Garnett put up
30 points and 20 rebounds and the top-seeded Timberwolves beat the
Denver Nuggets 106-92 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their
first-round series.

"You pick your poison," Cassell said. "You double-team me,
and the guy next to me can really go off."

Rookie Carmelo Anthony had a quiet 19 points in his postseason
debut for the Nuggets, most of them in the second half with his
team down by double digits. Game 2 is at Target Center on Wednesday
night.

"He's going to be real good," Garnett said. "Game 2 is going
to be even tougher."

Denver, making its first playoff appearance since 1995, didn't
make it easy for Minnesota despite going 3-for-17 from 3-point
range and getting outrebounded 48-35.

"There's a saying: No rebounds, no rings," said Nuggets coach
Jeff Bzdelik, whose team couldn't attack like it usually does
because of the Wolves' dominance inside. "If you can't get the
ball on the board, then you can't get out and run."

The Timberwolves, determined to end an NBA-record streak of
seven straight losses in the opening round, had their 22-point lead
in third quarter whittled to five early in the fourth.

But Cassell helped stave off the eighth-seeded Nuggets, scoring
12 points over the final nine minutes.

"You just play ball, man," Cassell said. "If I get it going,
I'm going to shoot the ball."

Marcus Camby had 19 points and eight rebounds, and backup Earl
Boykins had 16 points and five assists for Denver, the first team
since the league implemented an 82-game schedule to make the
playoffs a season after winning less than 20 games.

"We're not down on ourselves," said guard Voshon Lenard.
"There's a lot of guys tonight that never played in a playoff
game, and they got a taste of that."

The Timberwolves weren't just winless in their previous seven
playoff series, they had never even won a Game 1. Fed up with a
7-22 postseason record and sensing their chance to finally crack
the Western Conference elite, they remade their roster over the
summer and wound up with nine new players.

Cassell, who came in a trade with Milwaukee, was the big catch,
largely because of his playoff experience. Sure enough, the
motor-mouthed 34-year-old was in prime form Sunday night, directing
traffic on the court, jawing with the refs and swishing jumpers
from the wing.

"He gets into that midrange area, and he's going to knock down
the shot," said Andre Miller, who guarded Cassell most of the
game. "And then he starting hitting threes."

Cassell scored 11 points in the first four minutes of the second
half, sparking a 19-4 run that Garnett capped with an emphatic dunk
to give the Wolves their biggest lead, 70-48.

Cassell made three 3-pointers during the spurt, high-stepping it
back on defense after the second as the Nuggets quickly called a
20-second timeout.

The Wolves, who had 15 turnovers, got a little sloppy midway
through the third quarter and held a not-so-comfortable lead for
the next 10 minutes.

Jon Barry made Denver's first 3-pointer in 13 attempts, a
25-footer that cut the lead to 79-68 at the end of the third
period. The Nuggets came within 80-75 on Francisco Elson's jumper
with 9:41 remaining before the Wolves snapped out of their funk and
finished off the victory.

"When things go bad," coach Flip Saunders said, "Sam's like
that. You tell him what to do, and he gets things going."

The 19-year-old Anthony, who is the same age Garnett was when he
debuted in 1995, is going to lose out to LeBron James in the Rookie
of the Year voting. That doesn't, however, diminish his value to
Denver, which dearly missed the kid they call 'Melo in the last
half of the first quarter.

Anthony went to the bench after committing foul No. 2 with 6:17
left, seconds after Minnesota began a 17-2 run to open a 27-16
lead. The Nuggets, after making seven of their first nine shots,
sputtered without him and found it difficult to get free against
tough on-the-ball defense by the Timberwolves.

"It was a perfect game for me to learn from," said Anthony,
who shot 6-for-17.

Game notes
Cassell's previous playoff high was 33 points for Milwaukee
in 2001. He scored 40 points in a regular-season game at Chicago
that year. ... Lenard, who got up slowly after falling hard to the
floor on his hip at the end of the first half, was scoreless after
halftime and finished with seven points.