Timberwolves 94, Kings 86
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—The Minnesota Timberwolves found no security in their lofty new position at the top of the Western Conference standings.
Not yet anyway.
Sam Cassell scored 29 points and Kevin Garnett added 24 points and 17 rebounds as the Timberwolves moved past Sacramento into first place in the West with an impressive performance at one of the league’s toughest arenas, defeating the Kings 94-86 Thursday night.
“It was a very important game, the most important game of the year,” forward Latrell Sprewell said. “We can’t have a letdown. We have three games remaining and we have to win them.”
Minnesota rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit against the sloppy Kings, who were held to 17 fourth-quarter points. The Timberwolves moved a half-game ahead of the Kings and 1 1/2 ahead of the idle Los Angeles Lakers.
Minnesota has put itself in position to keep the top seed for the playoffs. The Wolves won the season series from Sacramento 3-1, giving them the tiebreaker edge.
They also has a more favorable schedule the rest of the way, while the Kings host the Lakers in their final regular-season game at Arco Arena on Sunday before finishing on the road at Denver and Golden State.
“All this did tonight is put us in position to take care of ourselves,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “To sweep them in their own place is a very difficult thing to do.”
Cassell scored with 1:59 left to make it 83-79 and also had two crucial rebounds in crunch time, including one on a missed layup by Mike Bibby with about 1:30 to play.
Yet Cassell felt he let his teammates down with his inconsistent shooting— he went 13-for-29 from the field.
“Guys came to me and said, ‘You still need to take those same shots. Those are the shots that make us go,”’ Cassell said. “I was getting down on myself. Those are shots I was supposed to make.”
Chris Webber had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Bibby added 19 points, seven assists and three steals as Sacramento started a stretch of four games in five nights.
This was a conference showdown so physical it resembled a playoff game more than a late-season matchup. Four of the teams’ previous five meetings were decided in overtime, and this one had plenty of drama, too.
After Cassell hit a jumper from the right side with 4:48 left in the third to pull the Wolves within 57-52, Bibby took over. He threw a pretty alley-oop for a dunk by Doug Christie, then made a driving lay-in. He found Webber for a reverse dunk and followed that play by sinking a 15-foot jumper.
Yet the Kings couldn’t hold the lead.
Garnett scored the first four points of the fourth, and Wally Szczerbiak’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes remaining made it 69-68. Vlade Divac, in jeopardy of going two straight games without scoring, converted a three-point play with 3:16 to go to keep the Kings within 80-78, but then was called for a questionable foul on the other end against Garnett. The Timberwolves took care of the ball the rest of the way.
“We still control our future in the Pacific (Division),” Miller said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of business there—just go out and win the rest of our games.”
Bobby Jackson, the Kings’ backup point guard, scored 10 points in 13 minutes in his first game back after missing 24 games with a strained abdominal muscle.
Jackson checked into the game with 2:22 left in the first quarter. He received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd and cheers of “Bobby! Bobby!” He immediately rebounded a missed shot by Christie and scored the putback with an acrobatic move on the baseline.
Minnesota, which had held its last five opponents to 81.6 points and 40 percent shooting, has gone 15 straight games without scoring 100 points, but it hasn’t mattered much.
Garnett grabbed 25 rebounds against Sacramento on Dec. 5, the most boards the Kings have given up to one player all season. Sacramento went hard to the glass this time, but still was outrebounded 48-40.
“It concerns me we lost, but it happens when you don’t rebound the ball,”Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “We got impatient offensively.”
Kings F Peja Stojakovic failed to make a 3-pointer for the first time in 37 games. … Christie finished with 12 points, his seventh straight game in double figures. … The teams combined for only eight turnovers in the first half. … Sacramento is 10-3 at home since the All-Star break. … Before the game, Kings players wore white T-shirts with pink writing spelling “SARAH 24” in memory of Jackson’s mother who died last season of breast cancer. Jacksonspoke during halftime about the importance of breast cancer awareness.