(22-30, 9-19 away)
(26-27, 15-13 home)
7:00 PM ET, February 15, 2005
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Still getting used to their new boss, the Minnesota Timberwolves are starting to like what they hear and see.
Kevin McHale earned his first coaching victory Tuesday night, and Michael Olowokandi had 17 points and 12 rebounds in Minnesota's 82-71 victory over New Jersey.
Kevin Garnett, who shot 0-for-5 from the floor in the first half, scored 17 points and raved about the positive energy McHale has injected into the team since taking over on Saturday.
"He's like a breath of fresh air right now," Garnett said. "He's given everybody from A to Z confidence."
Wally Szczerbiak added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Wolves, winning for just the second time in the last 10 games while setting season bests in points allowed and opponents' field goal percentage (31.0).
"He don't really care about the offensive end," Garnett said, referring to McHale and his emphasis on sound defense, rebounding and relentless effort.
Vince Carter had 25 of his 32 points in the first half for the Nets, who got a season-high 18 points from Ron Mercer -- but little else from anyone else after halftime. After taking a 19-5 lead midway through the first quarter, they scored at a rate barely better than a point per minute.
"You just can't rely on the jumper, especially on the road," coach Lawrence Frank said. "We made some defensive mistakes that we just couldn't overcome, because we couldn't score."
New Jersey's power forwards and centers totaled just five points. Clifford Robinson, acquired in a trade from Golden State the day before, was not yet with the team.
"They went out and played good defense," Mercer said. "You've got to give them credit."
As Minnesota's vice president of basketball operations, McHale -- whose play in the post with the Boston Celtics put him in the Hall of Fame -- fired Flip Saunders on Saturday. That was the first action taken by management in response to this highly disappointing season.
The Timberwolves' various problems have included rebounding, effort and shot selection, but they boxed out consistently, played hard and moved the ball well against the Nets.
Olowokandi, whose production at center has been largely missing since signing with Minnesota before last season, epitomized the renaissance. Pleased with the play of Olowokandi, Szczerbiak, Eddie Griffin, Anthony Carter and Fred Hoiberg, McHale left his second unit on the floor for extended stretches -- a move that proved effective.
"If you can keep banging the boards, hitting, fighting and scratching, stuff will fall your way eventually," McHale said.
After a turnaround hook shot in the lane that made it 54-45 in the third quarter, Olowokandi pumped his fist before heading back up the floor. He gave the cheering crowd a brief wave when Garnett replaced him early in the fourth period, and McHale put his arm around him later to encourage the 7-footer.
Olowokandi, whose 21-point, nine-rebound showing on Feb. 6 against Boston was his best performance in two seasons with Minnesota, sparked a 31-8 spurt that bridged the first and second periods.
"He's a big guy with a nice touch," New Jersey's Travis Best said. "It's up to him to play more consistent."
The Wolves held a 52-41 rebounding edge, shot 24 free throws to the Nets' 14 were frequently active without the ball. Those were things Saunders wasn't able to get the team to do this season.
"Now, if you don't score or if you don't play that much, everybody's still upbeat," Olowokandi said. "McHale does a very, very good job of that."
Garnett started the second quarter on the bench, and the Nets went to a small lineup that got taken advantage of underneath. The Wolves scored several easy layups and turnarounds in the lane and built a 36-27 lead. Carter and Jason Kidd, who made a trio of early 3-pointers, combined for 34 of New Jersey's 38 points before halftime.
"We had good shots and we were able to maneuver to get good shots," Carter said, "but we just didn't hit the shots."
With 12 points, the Nets had their worst third-quarter total this season. That was also the lowest allowed by the Timberwolves in that period this season. ... Sam Cassell, whose strained right hamstring kept him out for the 14th time in the last 22 games, will not play again for Minnesota until after the All-Star break, McHale said. ... Carter has scored 30 points or more in 10 of his 27 games with New Jersey. ... These teams split last season's series, with the loser averaging just 64.5 points.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||26-84 (.310)||30-76 (.395)|
|3PM-3PA||9-25 (.360)||4-15 (.267)|
|FTM-FTA||10-14 (.714)||18-24 (.750)|
|Fast Break Points||11||8|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||17 (2/0)||21 (1/0)|