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  • Game info: 9:30 pm EDT Fri Apr 30, 2004
  • TV: ESPN
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PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; Timberwolves lead 3-1.

The Minnesota Timberwolves look to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history when they play Game 5 of what has become a heated best-of-7 series with the Denver Nuggets.

If the Timberwolves win Friday, they will advance to the second round for the first time in eight tries. If the Nuggets play the way they have in the last two games, however, it could be a difficult task for Minnesota.

“It’s going to be a war Friday,” said Denver rookie Carmelo Anthony, who is questionable for Game 5 with a sprained left knee.

After a 21-point win in Game 3, the Nuggets took the Timberwolves down to the final seconds before losing Game 4 84-82. Latrell Sprewell got into a shouting match with Denver guard Jon Barry in front of the Nuggets’ bench immediately after the final buzzer. Teammates separated them, but the two groups continued to taunt one another over the horde of cameras and officials.

“There has been a lot of talking, and this is what the playoffs are all about,” Minnesota guard Trenton Hassell said.

Nuggets forward Francisco Elson was especially annoyed with Kevin Garnett. Elson said Garnett hit him in the groin when the two were matched against each other early in the game.

“They’re a No. 1 seed acting like little kids,” Elson said. “So it’s personal right now. Very personal on my part, too.

“That’s a cheap shot by a low type of player, low class type of player. No respect for the Nuggets at all and no respect for me on my part. We’re going to retaliate. I don’t want his respect. I don’t care about him, anyway. Who is he?”

Anthony, who suffered what appeared to be a severe knee sprain while coming down with a rebound in the third quarter, managed just two points on 1-of-16 shooting. He did return to action briefly in the second half before shutting it down in the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets will have a tough road if they hope to pull off the upset. Denver has lost seven straight games in Minnesota, including the first two of the series by 14 points each. Only six teams in NBA playoff history have come back from a 3-1 deficit.

“We’ll battle. This team has battled all year. This team has never quit,” Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik said.

Denver may be without Anthony, who tested the knee with a light workout Thursday.

“Right now I feel it’s a gameday decision,” said Anthony, who finished second behind LeBron James in the NBA Rookie of the Year voting. “My knee got a little looser, but it’s still tight. I’m not going to push the issue.”

Anthony was struggling even before he got hurt. He missed his first 12 shots in Game 4 before scoring on a breakaway midway through the third quarter.

Garnett, a leading candidate for MVP honors, has been dominating for Minnesota. He had 27 points, 14 rebounds and five assists Tuesday, and is leading the team in all three offensive categories this series.

Garnett and the Timberwolves were without Wally Szczerbiak, who is expected to be out for at least the rest of the Denver series after cracking three vertebrae in his back.

Szczerbiak was injured in the fourth quarter of the Nuggets’ 107-86 victory Saturday when he was fouled from behind by Chris Andersen and landed on his back.

“It has been an unlucky year,” said Szczerbiak, who missed the first half of the season with a foot injury. “The team has done well without me. I will be there to support them and hopefully I can get better.”

Game 6, if necessary, will be played in Denver on Sunday.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Nuggets - 8th seed. Timberwolves - 1st seed.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Nuggets - F Anthony or Ryan Bowen, F Nene, C Marcus Camby, G Voshon Lenard, G Andre Miller. Timberwolves - F Sprewell, F Garnett, C Ervin Johnson, G Sam Cassell, G Hassell.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Nuggets - Lenard, 17 ppg; Camby, 10.5 rpg; Earl Boykins, 3.8 apg. Timberwolves - Garnett, 25.3 ppg, 16.8 rpg and 6.8 apg.

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