<
>

Portland drops sixth straight

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves took advantage
of Zach Randolph's absence to extend the Portland Trail Blazers'
losing streak to six games.

Kevin Garnett had 14 points and 16 rebounds to lead the
Timberwolves to a 92-83 win over Portland on Saturday night.

Randolph has missed five games with a bruised right knee, and
not even the return of Darius Miles could keep the Blazers from
matching their longest losing streak since 2001-02.

Minnesota's reserves scored 59 points, a game after combining
for 74 in a victory over Seattle on Friday.

"We got excellent bench play tonight and we've finished a lot
of these games we've won recently with our bench in the game,"
coach Flip Saunders said.

Garnett, who only scored two points in the second half, was the
only Minnesota starter in double figures.

Wally Szczerbiak, coming off a season-high 34 points against
Seattle, had 18 and Fred Hoiberg had 13 of his 15 in the fourth
quarter.

Portland was led by Damon Stoudamire with 23 points and Ruben
Patterson, who remained in the starting lineup despite the return
of Miles from the injured list, had 19

Minnesota had a 15-point lead in the third quarter, but let it
dwindle to one when Stoudamire took over. The point guard, who had
a franchise-record 54 points Jan. 14 against New Orleans, twice led
Portland back within striking distance.

Szczerbiak, who was often matched up against the 5-foot-10
Stoudamire, exploited his height advantage and scored 14 in the
second half.

The tide turned for the final time when Hoiberg entered at 11:17
in the fourth quarter with Minnesota holding a 62-61 lead. In the
next 2 minutes, the 3-point specialist had three steals and an
offensive rebound put-back. Two minutes after that, he made a 3
that gave the Timberwolves an eight-point lead.

"Hoiberg has been sensational shooting the ball," Szczerbiak
said. "He deserves more and more playing time."

Portland is 3-13 in its last 16 games, and injuries to Randolph,
Miles and Shareef Abdur-Rahim along with poor play of guard Derek
Anderson has kept coach Maurice Cheeks juggling the starting
lineup.

"Certainly it was not our effort that lost that game ... our
guys off the bench and their overall depth was the reason they beat
us." Cheeks said.

Miles was out with a bruised knee, missing six games. He entered
in the first quarter and picked up three quick fouls. But he was in
for much of Portland's second-half run and scored 12 points.

The game was tight for most of the first half, but the Blazers,
who shot 50 percent in the first half, made just six of 23 shots in
the second quarter. The Timberwolves used a 16-3 run to take a
43-33 lead at halftime.

The Timberwolves expanded the lead to 15, but Stoudamire, who
had 13 in the third quarter knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to
get the lead down to 51-45.

After a timeout, Stoudamire knocked a pass away then fed
Patterson for a breakaway dunk to get the Blazers within three.

But Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel were hurt by Szczerbiak and
Hoiberg too often and the Blazers, who had 19 turnovers, missed too
many opportunities to score down the stretch.

Theo Ratliff has 10 points and nine rebounds for the Blazers.
Eddie Griffin had 11 boards off the bench for Minnesota.

Randolph, averaging 20.2 points and 10.9 rebounds, hasn't been
put on the injured list but he can't put full weight on his knee
and his return doesn't seem imminent.

Next up, the Blazers face San Antonio, which beat them by 24
points on Dec. 30.

"We've got to come out and minimize our mistakes," Ratliff
said. "That's what's hurting us more than anything."

Game notes
The Timberwolves beat Portland 92-84 a week ago in
Minnesota ... The Blazers are at home for the next five games and
play 25 of their remaining 43 games in the Rose Garden. ...
Minnesota's Sam Cassell sat out his ninth straight game with a
hamstring injury. He could return Monday against Detroit. ...
Portland's James Thomas left the game with a strained rib cage
muscle.