Indiana (20-7) at Minnesota (16-9)

Cloudy Currently: Minneapolis, MN
Temp: 35° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Sat Dec 20, 2003
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The new-look Minnesota Timberwolves will try to continue their best stretch of the season when they host the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers.

In the offseason, Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale made some key acquisitions to give Kevin Garnett more help. The Timberwolves’ “Big Three” of Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell are starting to look formidable.

Garnett (24.2 points per game), Cassell (19.8) and Sprewell (17.2) have formed the highest-scoring trio in the NBA and are the prime reasons Minnesota is riding a season-high four-game winning streak. The Timberwolves are also just a half-game behind first-place San Antonio in the Midwest Division.

“All three of them have given us great energy and have really played well together,” McHale said.

Including Thursday night’s win over Dallas, the trio is averaging a combined 61.2 points per game. Garnett led the way with 35 points, Cassell added 26 and Sprewell finished with eight as the Timberwolves beat the Mavericks 114-109.

Heading into Friday night’s games, the Los Angeles Lakers’ threesome of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Karl Malone had the second-highest combined average with 57 points.

Often overlooked because the team is playing as well as it is, the Timberwolves have taken the court most of this season short-handed.

Starting center Michael Olowokandi, swingman Wally Szczerbiak, backup point guard Troy Hudson and reserve center Mark Madsen are still out with injuries. Olowokandi (knee) and Szczerbiak (foot) are expected to be gone for at least another six weeks.

“We’re trying to gain as much momentum as possible,” Cassell said. “We’re doing this short-handed, but it’s going to work.”

The Wolves hope to get Hudson and Madsen back soon, possibly in time for Saturday’s game against the Pacers.

But McHale said he’s already noticing differences in Garnett’s game, now that he’s got two more scorers by his side.

“He’s doing a lot of the little things, getting people open in other ways and just playing at a really high level,” McHale said.

Indiana’s defense rescued its struggling offense Friday night as the Pacers avoided losing back-to-back games for the first time all season by beating Detroit 80-75.

Ron Artest scored 22 points, Jermaine O’Neal added 19 and reserve Austin Croshere had all 12 of his in the fourth quarter as the Pacers overcame horrendous shooting for the second straight game.

In their past two contests, the Pacers have shot less than 40 percent (65-for-174). On Friday night, Artest was 7-of-20 and O’Neal was 9-of-20 from the floor.

“It didn’t look good,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “We were down 10 but the guys dug down deep and found a way to do it. With us, it starts at the defensive end. If we’re ever in a situation like that and believe shot-making is going to bring us back, it’s not.”

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