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Szczerbiak sparks Minny comeback

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- One day after saying he might like a fresh
start with another team next season, Wally Szczerbiak gave the
Minnesota Timberwolves plenty of reasons to keep him around.

Szczerbiak scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter,
leading Minnesota to a 102-99 comeback victory over the New Orleans
Hornets on Monday night.

Szczerbiak had expressed frustration with his sixth man role,
saying he felt he had played well enough to start for the Wolves,
who had been eliminated from the playoffs after losing Sunday to
Seattle.

But Szczerbiak said his love for the game will keep him playing
to win regardless of his situation.

"That's all you can do when you step out there on the floor,
whether it means something or not. Just go out there and try to
make your teammates better and play like a team and come away with
the win," Szczerbiak said. "If you're a true basketball player
who loves the game, you play during the summer, in summer leagues
and give a true effort. If you're going to be out there and if
you're going to be performing and they pay you a lot of money,
you'd better give a darn good effort."

Sam Cassell scored 16 points and Kevin Garnett had 14 as
Minnesota handed New Orleans its eighth straight loss, one that
guaranteed the Hornets (18-63) could do no better than tie the
franchise's all-time worst record. In 1989-90, the then-Charlotte
Hornets, only in their second year in the NBA, went 19-63.

"You go through the whole season and you figure out in Game 81
that you pretty much saw every way we could possibly lose a game
and we invented a new one tonight," Hornets coach Byron Scott
said.

Minnesota went through several lethargic stretches, looking like
a team deflated from their recent elimination from the postseason.
The Hornets took advantage early in the fourth quarter, hustling in
their transition game to produce a breakaway dunk by Casey
Jacobsen, who had a team-high 15 points, and a driving dunk by
Bostjan Nachbar.

Nachbar's dunk gave New Orleans an 89-84 lead. But Szczerbiak
scored eight straight points during the heart of the final period
on three soft jumpers and a driving layup to keep the Wolves within
three points. His fallaway with about 2 minutes left pulled
Minnesota to 97-95.

Then, with the Hornets still leading by one inside the final
minute, Szczerbiak picked off Dan Dickau's baseline bounce pass. He
started the Wolves back up the floor on a possession that ended
with Anthony Carter's driving layup, giving Minnesota a 100-99 lead
with 29 seconds left.

After Dickau missed a floater, New Orleans got the rebound, but
had to settle for a 16-foot jumper by Maciej Lampe that missed.

"That's frustrating. We were playing well," Dickau said. "I
have to take a lot of responsibility. I missed a shot in that
(final) stretch and had a turnover. Defensively, Anthony Carter
scored that go-ahead layup while I was giving help on Szczerbiak."

Nachbar's running 3-point attempt at the buzzer, which could
have tied the game, fell short for a bitter end to what was a
strong game for him. Nachbar had 14 points, including three driving
dunks and two 3-pointers. Dickau had 12 points and 11 rebounds,
while J.R. Smith and P.J. Brown each scored 13 points.

The Hornets played without injured center Jamaal Magloire and
point guard Speedy Claxton. Scott kept Brown, the team's leader all
season, on the bench in crunch time because he's still trying to
figure out which of the younger players he wants around next
season.

"You have to give those guys a chance. You have to see how they
are going to act and react in adverse situations," Scott said.

Michael Olowokandi had 12 points for Minnesota on 6-of-8
shooting.

"We found a fun way to win one. It was pretty much like an
exhibition game for us," Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said.
"Wally carried us for a while. The players were loose. That's to
be expected at this part of the season when there's nothing to play
for."

Game notes
With one game remaining, Minnesota is 18-12 since McHale
took over as coach for Flip Saunders on Feb. 12. However, McHale
has said he does not intend to coach next season. ... The Hornets
have a nine-game losing streak at home, where they finish the
season Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. ...
Minnesota F Ndudi Ebi scored his first point of the season on a
free throw. The 20-year-old had not played all season before
entering the game late in the first quarter. He finished with nine.