7:30 PM ET, March 31, 2005
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
But last season's MVP knows all he can do is make the best of a bad situation.
Garnett had 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and six teammates scored in double figures as the Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Lakers 105-96 Thursday night for their fifth straight victory, matching a season-high.
"You can consider this our best basketball," Garnett said. "Better any time than never."
The Timberwolves won 15 of their first 23 games, lost 22 of their next 35, and now have won 10 of their last 14.
"It's terrible. I hate playing catch up," Garnett said. "This is the bed we made, so we've got to lay in it. We've got to win almost all the games left. I don't know anybody who likes to play like that. I know I don't. You can't take anything for granted. That's what I've learned through all this stuff."
Los Angeles and Minnesota met in last year's Western Conference finals, with Los Angeles winning in six games. Never before have two teams that met in the conference finals one season failed to make the playoffs the next, but the Timberwolves (38-34) and Lakers (33-38) are both in jeopardy of missing out.
The Timberwolves are in ninth place in the West, two games back in the race for the final playoff berth with 10 games remaining. The Lakers, who have lost nine of 10, are 10th in the West and 6½ games off the pace with 11 to play. Memphis and Denver, who are tied and hold down the last two playoff spots in the West, both have 12 games left.
"We got a game we had to get," Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale said. "We played very good defense in the first half, very good offense in the second half."
The Timberwolves shot 24-of-40 (60 percent) after halftime and 41-of-78 (52.6 percent) overall.
Trenton Hassell scored 16 points; Sam Cassell scored all but two of his 15 points in the fourth quarter; Wally Szczerbiak added 15; Latrell Sprewell had 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists; Troy Hudson scored 11, and Michael Olowokandi had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves.
"We're finally healthy as a ballclub," said Cassell, who shot 5-of-6 in the fourth quarter. "We're just playing basketball, we're not worried about ifs, ands or buts. We're just putting forth the effort -- that's the important thing."
The Lakers are 7-33 when the opposition scores 100 or more points.
"Our problem is on the defensive end," Bryant said. "We score enough points, it's just stopping teams when we need to."
Bryant realizes the Timberwolves have had their share of ups and downs this season, from injuries to contract controversies to a coaching change.
|L.A. Lakers' worst seasons|
|2004-05||.465||33-38*||* As of March 31|
"With the drama that they had going on over there, it's kind of tough to recover from -- plus their injuries," he said. "So I'm sure it's been a long year for them."
Bryant could say the same thing about the Lakers.
Butler made two baskets and Mihm added two free throws to cut Minnesota's lead to 90-83 with 5:16 remaining. But a basket by Hassell and five straight points by Cassell gave the Timberwolves a 14-point lead with 3½ minutes left. The Lakers didn't pose a serious threat after that.
The Timberwolves took command by outscoring the Lakers 21-11 to finish the third quarter for a 77-64 lead. Garnett and Sprewell scored six points each and Hassell added four during the spurt, and Szczerbiak made a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left in the period to complete the run.
The Timberwolves led 42-38 at halftime. Bryant was the only player in double figures at that stage with 10 points.
Atkins scored nine points in the first 2½ minutes as Los Angeles took a 12-4 lead. The Timberwolves responded by outscoring the Lakers 19-7 during the remainder of the first quarter to go ahead 23-19. Garnett had seven points and seven rebounds in the period.
Lamar Odom, the Lakers' second-leading scorer, sat out his sixth straight game because of a strained left shoulder. ... The Lakers entered needing two 3-pointers to surpass the franchise record of 551 set in the 1996-97 season. They got them in the first 48 seconds on long-range shots by Bryant and Atkins. ... The Lakers have qualified for the playoffs for 10 straight years and the Timberwolves have done so for eight straight. ... Atkins sustained a cut over his right eye late in the first quarter that required treatment, and he sat out 8½ minutes before returning. ... After getting his nine quick points, Atkins scored only two more on a basket early in the third quarter.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||41-78 (.526)||34-82 (.415)|
|3PM-3PA||5-10 (.500)||7-30 (.233)|
|FTM-FTA||18-22 (.818)||21-25 (.840)|
|Fast Break Points||7||10|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||19 (0/0)||21 (1/0)|