Sprewell scored 30 points Tuesday night as Minnesota sent Los Angeles to its seventh loss in 10 games—106-90.
“That’s their problem,” said Sam Cassell, who had 19 of his 26 points in the first half for the Wolves. “I’ve got my own problems in this locker room. We’re not healthy either.”
O’Neal and Malone were sorely missed, though, as Los Angeles missed dozens of open shots and let Minnesota dictate the pace and create the space it needed to run its motion offense to precision.
Kevin Garnett had 26 points and 18 rebounds while doing his usual thing down low, and Cassell and Sprewell had their mid-range jumpers in excellent form.
“I don’t care who is playing,” Sprewell said. “You have to go out and win regardless. We have injuries as well. That’s just part of the game.
“It does make a difference, obviously, without Shaq and Karl in the game. But we’ll take it. They still play hard.”
Bryant had only six of his 20 points in the second half for the Lakers, who lost their fifth straight on the road.
“We can wake up and play, or we can wait for him to come back,” Bryon Russell said. “Me, I’d like to wake up and play. Can we win without (O’Neal)? Yes, we can.”
Rookie Brian Cook had his best game as a pro (16 points in 30 minutes) and Kareem Rush added 16 points, giving the Lakers a spark from their second team early in the second half. But Los Angeles trailed by as many as 23 points and never led against the streaking Timberwolves—who have won 13 of 16.
“We’re not happy about that game at all,” Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said.
This wasn’t the matchup Minnesota and its fans were anticipating when the schedule came out, as the Lakers were missing two of their famed top four. Gary Payton, who spent the end of last season with Cassell in Milwaukee, had 13 points.
Only a handful of players participated in the first-round playoff series between the teams last season, won by Los Angeles in six games. The Wolves, without Troy Hudson, Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi, are playing as well as ever.
Minnesota has won five of its last seven regular-season home games against Los Angeles.
“It’s a big game,” Garnett said. “Every night’s a big game. … I think this is what everybody wanted. It’s beautiful.”
After trailing by double digits for the most of the first half, including the entire second quarter, the Lakers scored the first five points after halftime and cut the lead to 62-53.
Slava Medvedenko, angered by an offensive foul he picked up for elbowing Ervin Johnson, got a technical for slamming the ball on the floor. Then Minnesota outscored Los Angeles 22-11 over the balance of the period.
“Everything started to fall apart from there,” Jackson said.
O’Neal is doubtful for Wednesday night’s game in Denver. … Garnett was honored before the game as the NBA’s player of the month for December. … Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders recorded his 350th career victory. He’s the 33rd coach in NBA history to get that many. … During his pregame comments to reporters about 90 minutes before tipoff, Jackson looked up and saw Garnett walking by. “You’re late,” Jackson deadpanned as Garnett passed withoutacknowledgment.