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Pacers keep Garnett quiet, still fall to T-Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Eddie Griffin has slowly emerged as one of
the top defensive players in the league. When he produces on the
offensive end as well, look out.

Griffin had 17 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks, and Wally
Szczerbiak scored 20 points to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves over
the Indiana Pacers 90-85 on Friday night.

"Eddie Griffin had a great game," coach Dwane Casey said. "He
did an excellent job of protecting the paint and playing big."

The Timberwolves were nearly perfect in the first quarter and
finally got the balance Casey has been looking for in their fourth
victory in five games.

Minnesota shot 75 percent in the first period and had all five
starters finish in double figures for the first time this season.

Kevin Garnett added 17 points and eight rebounds and Szczerbiak
was 12-for-12 on free throws.

Fred Jones scored 19 points and Austin Croshere added 18 points
and six rebounds for the Pacers, who shot 39 percent and
desperately missed star forward Jermaine O'Neal.

Griffin has struggled mightily shooting the ball for most of the
season, but was 7-for-11 on Friday night and Marko Jaric had 13
points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

Griffin set the tone early, shooting 4-for-5 in the first
quarter for eight points and adding four blocks on the defensive
end.

"Once you get him going, he can really shut that paint down
better than anyone I've seen," Garnett said. "I think we're doing
a pretty good job of doing that, getting him shots and keeping him
involved."

Trenton Hassell, who has emerged as a consistent third scoring
option in January, added 10 points and six assists for Minnesota.

The Timberwolves closed the first period with a 13-5 run to take
a 28-17 lead and never trailed the rest of the way, leading by as
many as 16 in the third quarter.

Slow starts have become commonplace for the Pacers. They fell
behind by 10 points in the first to Charlotte on Wednesday before
rallying for the victory and were down by 17 in the first half of a
five-point loss to New Jersey on Monday.

"It's kind of been our problem lately," Croshere said. "We
continually end up having to play out of a hole."

The Pacers cut the lead to three in the fourth on a three-point
play by Croshere with 13 seconds to go, but Jones missed a
potential tying 3-pointer with 2 seconds to go and Griffin was
right there to grab the rebound.

"He's struggled lately shooting the ball and I was concerned he
was due to come out of it," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.
"He's playing very well. What he's doing defensively has everybody
in the league taking notice."

It's been a rough stretch for the Pacers, who have been ravaged
by injuries, illness and misbehavior for most of the season.

Indiana played without O'Neal, who has a sprained left ankle,
for the third straight game. Scot Pollard also missed the game with
a sore back and Jamaal Tinsley returned at the end of the first
quarter after an 11-game absence with a torn right biceps -- only to
leave in the fourth quarter with an injured right elbow.

Then, of course, there is Ron Artest.

The talented yet volatile forward has been inactive since Dec.
6, when he requested to be traded.

The Timberwolves were among the many teams that have inquired
about Artest and were thought to be a prime contender in the
sweepstakes. But talks between Timberwolves vice president Kevin
McHale and Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh have slowed of late.

Stephen Jackson, who has become the Pacers' No. 1 option with
O'Neal and Artest out, was limited by the flu on Friday night and
managed 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting and six rebounds.

Game notes
Wolves PG Troy Hudson missed the game with the flu. ...
Minnesota's Rashad McCants received a technical foul with 5:22 to
go in the second. ... Pacers F Jeff Foster received a questionable
flagrant foul call for a foul on Mark Madsen with 1:20 to go in the
third. ... Referee Ron Olesiak excited the crowd just before the
fourth when he fired a football about 40 yards to hit a target in
the stands.