Timberwolves 97, Lakers 84

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LOS ANGELES (AP)—Minnesota coach Flip Saunders didn’t need to get on the Timberwolves after a lousy first half. They got mad at themselves.

The Wolves trailed by 15 points in the first half, then got big second-half performances from Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Kevin Garnett to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-84 Friday night for their 21st victory in their last 26 games.

“That’s probably one of the most unusual box scores I’ve looked at in a long time where three players score a lot of points like those players did and only 14 points for the other eight players on the team,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Sprewell scored 35 points, Cassell added 28 points and 11 assists, and Garnett had 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The Wolves scored just 15 points in the first quarter and trailed 44-35 at halftime.

“At halftime, we weren’t happy with the way we were playing. We were getting on each other,” Sprewell said.

The Wolves improved the NBA’s best road record to 17-8 by outscoring Lakers 32-18 in the fourth quarter. Cassell had 16 points and made all eight of his free throws in the final period.

“We can correct ourselves. Our coaches don’t have to say a lot,” Cassell said. “Spree went on a tear. I came in after that and did what I did. We’re learning how to win on the road.”

Frustrated Lakers guard Gary Payton was called for a technical foul with three seconds left when the Wolves were dribbling out the clock.

“The zone defense helped us the second half,” Saunders said. “It got them a little more non-aggressive. They missed some shots. You miss a couple shots and all of a sudden that ball becomes a lot heavier.”

Shaquille O’Neal scored 22 points for the Lakers, who dropped to 7-11 without the injured Karl Malone. Kareem Rush added 17 points, including two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, while starting in the place of injured Kobe Bryant.

“Their big three really stepped up, played really well and got the victory,” Rush said. “They just got hot. They ran off a lot of quick points in the third quarter.”

Los Angeles led 73-72 before Cassell took over in the fourth. He keyed an 18-7 run that gave Minnesota a 90-80 lead with 2:41 remaining. O’Neal had just four points in the fourth quarter in his second game since returning Wednesday after missing 12 games with a right calf injury.

“The calf was OK,” O’Neal said. “Now it is just time for us to put together solid 48-minute games and try to get back on track. I thought we had that game, but in the second half they shot the ball well and we just relied on our jump shot too much.”

Bryant was reduced to being a cheerleader on the Lakers’ bench. He cut his right index finger at home Thursday night and will be out at least a week.

The Wolves took their first lead since the opening quarter with 2:40 remaining in the third on a basket by Sprewell. O’Neal tied it at 59 with two free throws after missing the first one and having a lane violation called against Minnesota.

Sprewell scored Minnesota’s final five points of the third, including a 3-pointer, before Fisher hit a 3-pointer from the left corner that put the Lakers ahead 66-63 heading into the fourth. Sprewell had 19 points in the thirdbefore Cassell got hot in the fourth.

Notes

Minnesota is 2-0 against the Lakers so far, having won at home Jan. 6. … The Wolves signed G Darrick Martin to a 10-day contract, his third stint with Minnesota after signing two consecutive 10-day contracts in 1995. He had been playing for the CBA’s Sioux Falls Sky Force. … The Lakers signed G Maurice Carter to a 10-day contract, taking Bryant’s place on the active roster. Carter was with the CBA’s Dakota Wizards. … Wolves F Mark Madsen, a crowd favorite when he was with the Lakers, received a huge cheer when heentered the game in the second quarter.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Minnesota
S. Cassell S. Cassell
9-19,  28 Pts
3 Rebs, 11 Assists
 LA Lakers
S. O'Neal S. O'Neal
8-14,  22 Pts
9 Rebs, 3 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists