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Cassell's 3 pivotal in Minny's road win

DALLAS (AP) -- Now that the Minnesota Timberwolves have three key
players back in the rotation, they're ready to make a push for the
eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Sam Cassell celebrated his return by scoring 15 points,
including a key 3-pointer in the closing minutes, and Kevin Garnett
scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, leading the
Minnesota Timberwolves to a 100-91 victory over the Dallas
Mavericks on Tuesday night.

The win puts Minnesota (33-32) a half-game behind Denver and
tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the West's No. 8 seed. The
Timberwolves are also 2-2 in a seven-game stretch against
playoff-bound foes, with games left at San Antonio and Memphis,
then home against Houston.

"We don't have a lot of time," said Garnett, who also had 12
rebounds and seven assists. "Every game is a desperate game. That
has to be our mind-set."

Getting back Cassell, Michael Olowokandi and Eddie Griffin
should help. Cassell had missed seven straight, and 22 of the last
33, with a strained right hamstring, while Olowokandi (knee) and
Griffin (hand) both had missed the last nine games. Olowokandi had
eight points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes and Griffin added
three points and eight rebounds before fouling out in 15 minutes.

Look at this way: with them, Minnesota beat Dallas by nine on
the road, never trailing and leading by as many as 19. Two days
before, without the trio, the Timberwolves lost to the Mavericks by
nine.

"It's nice to have some different people you can go to,"
Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said. "All three of them did a
tremendous job, especially for not playing in a while."

None started, but Cassell played nearly the entire fourth
quarter. He scored nine points in the period, the most important
coming with 2:11 to go when his 3 from the left corner gave
Minnesota a 94-87 lead. The Mavericks never got closer than five
again.

"I'm limited, but I gutted it out," Cassell said. "This was a
game we had to have and we got it. ... If I was healthy, we
wouldn't be in this predicament right now."

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 21 points and 15 rebounds,
but missed nine of his first 12 shots and finished just 6-for-19.

Dallas coach Don Nelson returned from a three-game absence to
care for his wife, but couldn't help his team avoid losing at home
for the fifth time in nine tries.

The Mavericks came in hoping to start a four-game homestand --
with the next three against teams definitely headed for the lottery
-- with a performance that would snap them out of their home funk.
Instead, they were out of sync from the start.

Jason Terry committed a foul guarding a long jumper on the
game's first play, then Josh Howard absent-mindedly lost a pass out
of bounds on the first offensive series. Dallas trailed 11-2 was
down 38-19 with 8:31 left in the second quarter.

The Mavs, who have a two-game lead over fading Sacramento for
the West's fourth seed, ended up matching their season low with 35
points at halftime, shooting just 11-of-36 (31 percent) from the
field and 11-of-18 from the line, while getting outrebounded 30-18.

"We've got to come out with more energy than we had tonight,"
said Terry, who had 18 points. "We gave them second and third
opportunities at the basket. That's going to get you every night."

Better aim and more aggressive rebounding helped Dallas get
within 65-62. Minnesota led just 77-73 when Garnett stretched it
with six straight points, starting with four straight free throws.
The first two came after a foul by Nowitzki that turned into a
double technical when the All-Stars bumped and shoved each other.

Both downplayed the incident.

"It was nothing serious," Nowitzki said. "I thought he pushed
me out of the way, so I pushed back."

Added Garnett: "I don't bookmark those situations."

Game notes
Timberwolves C Mark Madsen made just his third start,
replacing John Thomas, who went from starting four of five to not
playing. Madsen sprained his right hand in the first half, but
returned with it wrapped after X-rays showed no break. ... The Mavs
aren't expecting sixth man Jerry Stackhouse (groin) off the injured
list for nearly a month, just in time for the playoffs.