Timberwolves 98, Clippers 82

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LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Minnesota Timberwolves hope their third straight 50-win season will lead to their first trip deep into the playoffs.

Latrell Sprewell scored 18 points, Kevin Garnett had 17 points and 15 rebounds and the Timberwolves completed a four-game season sweep of the Los Angeles Clippers with a 98-82 victory on Saturday night. One more win will tie the franchise record set a year ago.

“I think it shows maturity and it shows growth, and it shows the kind of potential that we have to be a good team,” Garnett said. “We’re making strides. Every year is a progression. We’ve just got to continue to stay hungry. As much as we’ve been knocked out of the first round, we’ve still been able to get better each year.”

Playing at Staples Center for the second consecutive night—after shooting a season-low 31.4 percent in a 17-point loss to the Lakers—Minnesota pulled into a tie with the Lakers for second place in the Western Conference standings, two games behind Sacramento with eight to play.

“The difference between last night and tonight was energy,” Garnett said. “I know I wasn’t happy with the way I played last night, and that kind of stuck with me all day. So I just came in tonight with aggressive thoughts and tried to assert myself and be more vocal. I wanted to make a more valiant effort to get everybody from A to Z involved and into the game.”

Elton Brand’s 22 points and rookie Chris Kaman’s career-high 19 points and 12 rebounds couldn’t prevent a season-worst seventh straight defeat for the Clippers, who have dropped 15 of 17 and five straight at home.

Minnesota beat them for the seventh straight time, including a 95-64 rout last season at Los Angeles—the Timberwolves’ largest winning margin ever on the road.

Center Michael Olowokandi played his first game against the Clippers since leaving as a free agent last offseason and scored seven points in 12 minutes. The sellout crowd of 19,424 booed him when he entered the game at the start of the second quarter, and every time he touched the ball. But at least he’s going to the playoffs—something he never did with the Clippers.

“I’m happy for him,” Brand said. “He’s not playing a lot of minutes yet, but just the fact that he’s definitely going to the playoffs is great for him. And who knows? He could have some substantial minutes to contribute.”

Olowokandi, who spent his first five NBA seasons with the Clippers after becoming the first overall pick in the 1998 draft, didn’t play in the first three meetings because of an injured right knee that required arthroscopic surgery on Dec. 12. He also had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee over the summer and missed the entire preseason schedule.

“It was tough, missing those games but I don’t think it was especially tough just because it was the Clippers,” Olowokandi said. “It was just tough not to be able to play, period—not being able to go through training camp with the rest of the guys and not being able to get into basketball condition early in the season. That was the most frustrating thing.”

The Clippers were trailing 73-59 when forward Corey Maggette received a technical foul from referee Ed Malloy with 2:01 left in the third quarter, then flung the ball back at him and was ejected after scoring 17 points. Dunleavy was ejected moments later by Dan Crawford after getting his second technical foul.

“It was just frustration because we felt like we weren’t getting the calls,” Brand said. “We want the same calls. I know there’s some playoff implications with the last few teams we’ve played, and I understand the psyche behind it. But, hey, we’re still competing, and we still want to win and get a fair chance.”

Assistant coach Jim Eyen guided the Clippers the rest of the way, and they cut the deficit to 11 points with 9:48 remaining.

But Garnett triggered a 7-0 spurt with a 20-footer and Wally Szczerbiak followed with a 13-footer and a 3-pointer for a 88-70 cushion with 8:13 to play. The Clippers got no closer than 12 points with 2:34 left.

Sprewell drained three shots from behind the arc in a 71-second span late inthe second quarter to help Minnesota take a 52-42 halftime lead.

Notes

The Timberwolves avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season. The only other teams that haven’t lost more than two straight are Indiana and Sacramento. … The only other time Minnesota swept all four games against the Clippers was 1997-98. … The Timberwolves are 7-7 this month after going a combined 34-9 in December, January and February. … It was the third game this season and second in a row that no Minnesota player scored at least 20 points. The other time was Jan. 2, when they beat Atlanta 93-75 and Garnettled them with 18.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Minnesota
K. Garnett K. Garnett
7-14,  17 Pts
15 Rebs, 5 Assists
 LA Clippers
C. Kaman C. Kaman
7-13,  19 Pts
12 Rebs, 2 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists