Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Szczerbiak sparks Minny comeback

by the Associated Press, from Espn.com
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."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Dropping a heart Breaker

from the official site of the Minnesota Timberwolves
The Denver Nuggets delivered a blow that has the Minnesota Timberwolves staggering toward the canvas.

Andre Miller had 22 points and a season-high 15 assists to lead the Nuggets to a 107-104 victory over the Timberwolves, whose postseason hopes took another serious hit.

Last season, the Timberwolves were the Western Conference's top seed and eliminated the Nuggets in five games in an emotional first-round series. But the Timberwolves' hopes of making the playoffs for a ninth straight season seem to be fading.

Minnesota (40-36) fell 3 1/2 games behind Memphis for the final playoff berth with six games left.

"This was a huge setback," Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett said. "It's like waiting on a right hook and getting hit with a body blow. And we got nobody to blame but ourselves."

"It's definitely a major, major blow, but it isn't over yet," Timberwolves point guard Sam Cassell said.

Miller, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin kept the Nuggets (44-31) rolling toward the postseason. Denver has won six straight and 20 of its last 22 games, pulling within one-half game of sixth-place Houston.

"We keep it (last year's loss in the playoffs) in the back of our minds," Anthony said. "But that's not our main motivation. We just want to keep getting better."

"We're playing with confidence and swagger," Martin said. "Coach has us believing in his way of playing the game. We're playing as a team, moving the ball well, being unselfish and aggressive."

Effectively getting the Nuggets out in the open court all night, Miller fed Marcus Camby for a dunk with 1:36 to play, giving the Nuggets a 103-98 lead. Miller also hit a clutch jumper with 40 seconds left for a 107-101 advantage.

After Garnett's three-point play with 31 seconds left pulled the Timberwolves within 107-104, Miller missed an ill-advised 3-pointer.

Minnesota went without a timeout and Cassell's 3-pointer with under four seconds left glanced off the front of the rim.

Anthony scored 26 points and Martin 24 before fouling out late in the contest for Denver, which held a 30-10 advantage in fast-break points and a 48-20 edge in points in the paint.

"Out transition defense was very poor," Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale said. "They ran it down our (butt) - Miller especially. He attacked us."

Cassell scored 27 points and Garnett had 26 and 16 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who battled back from a double-digit third-quarter deficit before falling short.

"We knew Minnesota was going to fight," Denver coach George Karl said. "They made some tough shots down the stretch. We gave them some shots, but they earned most of them."

A pair of free throws by Wally Szczerbiak with 3:29 remaining pulled the Timberwolves even at 96-96. But Martin fed Anthony for an alley-oop dunk to give Denver the lead for good and Martin scored on a drive with 2:38 to go.

"Getting dunks in the last two minutes of the game is huge," Karl said. "I thought that was the key. We're getting dunks and they're taking jump shots."

"This was a big game," Miller said. "It all starts with coach (Karl). He keeps us composed. We feel like we can beat anybody right now. The only team that can beat us in the last 23 games, at least is Phoenix."

"Games like these are really important for us," Karl said.