MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—After an exhausting climb, the Minnesota Timberwolves are tied at the top of the Midwest Division.
And it’s only been 25 games! Just think what the rest of the season is going to be like.
Kevin Garnett had 35 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his first triple-double of the season, helping Minnesota hold off Dallas 114-109 on Thursday night for its fourth straight victory.
“It’s a dogfight in this division—we just trying to scratch and claw our way through it,” said Sam Cassell, who added 26 points for the Timberwolves.
Gary Trent had a season-high 18 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota (16-9), which won its second straight at home after losing five of its first nine at Target Center.
“A lot of guys played well, but the biggest surprise was Gary,” coach Flip Saunders said. “It was the best game he had this year.”
The Wolves, who wasted a 13-point lead in a 92-88 loss at Dallas on Nov. 29, improved to 4-4 against Western Conference teams and pulled even with Denver in the Midwest. All seven teams are within three games of each other.
Steve Nash (27 points) and Antawn Jamison (22) accounted for all but four of the Mavericks’ fourth-quarter points. The Mavs dropped to 3-9 on the road after falling at Boston 105-103 on Wednesday night, and each of their last three losses are by five points or less.
“As long as a team plays up to its potential, I have no complaint about wins or losses,” Dallas coach Don Nelson said, showing some pity for his tired team. “This was one of those games.”
Down by nine in the first quarter, the Wolves used a 14-0 run to take a 26-21 lead that they didn’t relinquish until Nash hit a 3-pointer that put the Mavericks back in front, 99-98 with 5:07 left.
Garnett—who had his 13th career triple-double—made back-to-back baskets, though, and Minnesota pulled away.
“Kevin Garnett is a phenomenal player, and he was on tonight,” the Mavericks’ Danny Fortson said. “Our division alone is tough. You’ve got to be ready to play.”
It wasn’t just Garnett, though. Cassell buried a 3-pointer with 3:03 left to make it 105-100. Trent and Trenton Hassell both grabbed key rebounds down the stretch. With Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson and Michael Olowokandi out with injuries, Minnesota’s bench has been important.
“We’ve got to contribute to this team, whether it’s playing defense, rebounding or hitting open shots,” Hassell said.
Games between these two teams are always marked by plenty of contact and feisty play, and this night was no exception. The Wolves, and their fans, howled about several calls and non-calls, and the Mavericks contributed their share of complaints.
“Imagine if we had a home-and-home against them,” Cassell said. “We’d be exhausted.”
Dallas plays Minnesota on the second night of back-to-back games all four times this season.
“Everybody’s down on themselves,” Fortson said, “because this is a tough stretch for us.”
The Wolves beat the buzzer three times, getting a 3-pointer from Garnett at the end of the first quarter, a soaring baseline jumper from Hassell at the end of the second and a 22-footer by Keith McLeod at the end of the third that gave them an 84-82 lead.
“Minnesota’s playing good ball right now,” said the Mavericks’ Antoine Walker, held to eight points. “They started off struggling, but now they’regoing strong.”
C Shawn Bradley (back spasms) and swingman Michael Finley (sprained toe) did not travel with Dallas. … The Mavericks announced Jamison as a starter at center, but Fortson went out to midcourt. The Wolves countered by putting Ervin Johnson in for Trent, trying to gain a significant height advantage for the opening tip. Seeing that, Nelson called for Jamison— prompting Saunders to try to sneak Trent back in. Finally, official Ron Garretson told both teams to go back to their original lineups. … Trent spentthree seasons with Dallas from 1998-01.