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Clippers off to best start in 20 years, top Wolves in OT

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Most of the Clippers' current players were in
elementary school or diapers the last time the franchise started a
season 3-0. The times appear to be changing for them, thanks to
their new starting backcourt of Cuttino Mobley and Sam Cassell.

Mobley had 27 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, Elton Brand
also scored 27 points, and the Clippers survived a missed jumper by
Kevin Garnett in the final seconds of overtime to beat the
Minnesota Timberwolves 100-99 Saturday night.

"This is a huge gut check for this team," Mobley said.
"Tonight's game was an ugly win, but we still have to play them on
Monday and they will be looking for payback."

The Clippers are off to their first 3-0 start since 1985-86,
when they began their second season in Los Angeles with five
straight victories. But they lost 12 of their next 13, finished
32-50 and missed the playoffs.

Garnett had 25 points and 15 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who
had won 10 of their previous 11 games against the Clippers. Former
Clippers guard Troy Hudson scored 21 points off the bench, 11 in
the fourth quarter.

Los Angeles, trying to end an eight-year postseason drought, is
off to a fresh start in its third season under coach Mike Dunleavy.
So is Cassell, who spent a tumultuous 2004-05 season with the
Timberwolves that was soured by a contract dispute in training camp
and a hamstring injury that limited him to a career-low 59 games.

"He's been terrific," Dunleavy said. "He's brought,
obviously, his ability to play on the court. But the intangibles in
the locker room have really been beyond my expectations -- how
easily he's integrated with our group and how good our chemistry is
with him.

"He's an extremely smart player on the floor, and that
translates very well with our players," Dunleavy added. "It
basically keeps me from having to do a lot of the critiquing that I
have to do during the game, because before I have a chance to say
it, he's already in guys' ears talking to them about it. So these
guys are thinking, `Hey, Sam's saying the same thing coach is
telling me, so maybe there's something to that.' So it's a real
positive."

The 36-year-old point guard, playing for his seventh NBA team,
averaged a career-high 19.8 points and 7.3 assists two seasons ago
to help lead Minnesota to the Western Conference finals. Cassell
averaged just 13.5 points last season -- his lowest in 10 years, and
was traded to Los Angeles on Aug. 12 with a conditional first-round
draft pick for guards Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers.

"Sam was out there on their side last year hitting big shots,
and now he's on ours," Brand said.

The Timberwolves never led in regulation, but still managed to
force overtime on Garnett's 11-foot jumper with 7.3 seconds left.
Cassell, who had 12 points and seven assists in 44 minutes, tried
to pull out the win after a timeout but missed on a scoop shot at
the fourth-quarter buzzer.

Jaric's layup gave Minnesota its first lead 97-95 with 2:01 left
in OT. But Mobley tied it with a soaring dunk in a crowd, and
Quinton Ross added an 18-footer for the Clippers after a missed
layup at the other end by Wally Szczerbiak. Hudson's layup made it
a one-point game with 34 seconds left, and the Wolves got another
chance when Mobley missed a 17-footer that would have iced it for
the Clippers.

But Garnett, the league's MVP two seasons ago, hit the rim on an
8-foot fadeaway jumper over Zeljko Rebraca after the two of them
bumped in the lane, sending Minnesota to its second overtime loss
in two nights.

"I just took what he gave me. It felt good and looked good,
from my perspective, but it just came out," Garnett said.

The Timberwolves, who trailed by as many as 12 points, pulled
within 78-76 with 8:58 left in the fourth quarter as Hudson hit a
22-footer, a 3-pointer, a short running jumper and two free throws
-- all in a 3:49 span. Garnett tied it at 78 32 seconds later with
an 11-footer, but the Clippers hung tough.

Rookie Daniel Ewing drove the length of the court for a layup
after a turnover by Hudson, then set up a dunk by Chris Kaman with
5:48 left after the Timberwolves turned it over again on a shot
clock violation.

Jaric, who averaged 17 points and 4.5 assists in his first two
games with Minnesota, had eight points and eight assists in his
first game against his former team. He became expendable in Los
Angeles because the Clippers were confident that Shaun Livingston,
their No. 1 draft pick in 2004, had overcome an injury jinx that
limited him to 30 games in his rookie season. But Livingston is out
indefinitely with a sore lower back.

"I played here for three years and I respected this team,"
Jaric said. "I did everything I could for this team and I have
nothing bad to say about them. We just split up. I wanted to go to
a team with a winning mentality that's ready to win."

Game notes
Also missing from the Clippers' lineup were Corey Maggette
because of a strained left hamstring and Walter McCarty with a cut
on his right thumb. Maggette could see action on the next road
trip. ... The teams will meet again Monday night in Minnesota, the
Timberwolves' only home-and-home set this season.