Sam Cassell and the Minnesota Timberwolves aren't giving up on what has been a disappointing season just yet.
Kevin Garnett had 30 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, but it was Cassell's return to the lineup that keyed the Timberwolves' 94-86 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
Cassell flashed some of the skill and leadership that was responsible for the Timberwolves' run to the Western Conference finals last season, but has been sorely lacking from the team so far this year.
After missing Friday night's loss at Memphis with a sore hamstring that has plagued him nearly the entire season, Cassell scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes.
He smiled often and was his wily old self -- drawing fouls, jawing with the opposition and even getting into a shoving match with McGrady.
"That's the first time we've seen Sam in awhile," guard Fred Hoiberg said. "He was very aggressive. That's when we're at our best is when he's out there getting everybody fired up. Hopefully he can play out the rest of the season now."
The Timberwolves' season may depend on it.
They are 2½ games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and now have just 14 games to make up the ground.
"We have to have a little run right now, an eight-game winning streak, something like that," Cassell said. "I think this team has the capability of doing it, but I have to stay on the court."
They played like a desperate team against the Rockets.
Garnett scored 13 of his points in the third quarter, when the Timberwolves took advantage of poor shooting by Tracy McGrady and the Rockets to pull away.
The Rockets were just 3-of-14 from the field in the third and trailed by as many as 23 points to lose for the second time in a row following a six-game winning streak.
Yao Ming had 21 points and five rebounds for Houston, but did most of his damage in the first quarter and was quiet for the rest of the game.
McGrady's shooting slump continued on Sunday. He missed seven of his first eight shots and finished with 15 points on 4-of-22 shooting. In his last four games, McGrady is 27-for-88 from the field (31 percent).
Despite his monumental struggles, the Rockets used a 10-2 run at the start of the fourth quarter to cut into Minnesota's lead. Mike James' 3-pointer with 6:14 to go made the score 86-77, but the Rockets never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
"We will follow the lead of myself, Tracy and Yao, and right now none of us is inspired at all," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "The lead of myself and those two is not what it needs to be."
The Timberwolves have also been missing that leadership for most of what has been a puzzling and frustrating season. But it was out in full force, courtesy of Cassell on Sunday.
Cassell sparked the team to a fast start with a nearly flawless first half in which he was 5-for-6 for 14 points to help the Wolves to a 13-point lead.
The Timberwolves opened the third quarter with an 11-1 run to go up by 23 points. McGrady seemed uninterested for much of the rest of the game, settling for 3-pointers and often drifting away from the offensive sets.
"I'm shooting poorly from the field and it's carried over to my defensive game, my energy," McGrady said. "It seems like it all falls apart on you."
The only time McGrady really showed any emotion was during a second-quarter scuffle with Cassell. Both players picked up technicals for tussling after colliding on a pick and roll. After the collision, McGrady shoved Cassell, who retaliated, and several Wolves coaches had to step in to separate the two players.
"Sam has that fire every night," Garnett said. "Where he's struggling right now is with consistency with his injury. But he brings the fire. We know that."
James finished with 13 points and six rebounds, but Houston shot just 35 percent for the game.
Wally Szczerbiak had 20 points and five assists for the Wolves, giving them the kind of balance that will be critical if they are going to leapfrog the Lakers and Denver and get into the playoffs.
"It's very doable," Cassell said. "I've been in situations like this before in Milwaukee and New Jersey. We just gotta go on a win streak. Plain and simple."
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
by the Associated Press, from ESPN.com
Posted by SloMo at 3:34 PM
Monday, March 07, 2005
from the official site of the Timberwolves
Latrell Sprewell's driving layup with 0.9 seconds left to play gave the Timberwolves a 99-97 win in Boston on Sunday. Kevin Garnett was a force on both ends of the court, scoring 21, grabbing 13 boards and handing out nine assists for Minnesota.
Posted by SloMo at 3:48 PM