Timberwolves 104, Jazz 90
MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—With the playoffs fast approaching, both Minnesota and Utah needed a victory badly.
But the Jazz just weren’t ready, and their streak of 20 consecutive postseason appearances is done.
Latrell Sprewell scored 24 points, showing some familiar feistiness in the Timberwolves’ 104-90 victory over the Jazz on Monday night.
“It looked like some guys had packed it in,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “I think we showed that right away.”
Kevin Garnett posted his 71st double-double—21 points and 17 rebounds— for Minnesota, which won its eighth straight and stayed on track for the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Sam Cassell scored 18 points for Minnesota (57-24), which is a game ahead of Midwest Division rival San Antonio. If the Wolves win at Memphis on Wednesday, they get the No. 1 spot and homecourt advantage throughout the conference finals.
If the Wolves lose to the Grizzlies and the Spurs beat Denver at home that night, San Antonio will win the second tiebreaker by virtue of a better conference record. Minnesota and San Antonio split their four meetings this season.
“The bottom line is we’re trying to finish the season on a positive note,” Sprewell said.
“Everyone said we would be the worst team in the NBA,” Kirilenko said. “We’ve stayed like a team.”
The Jazz whittled the deficit to 79-71 midway through the fourth quarter— the first time since early in the second quarter they were within single digits—until Garnett rejected a dunk attempt by Michael Ruffin. Sprewell swished a 3-pointer off the subsequent fast break, and Utah never came closer.
“It’s tough to play with a big lead,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “You’re just waiting for it to end.”
The Jazz didn’t go quietly, though. Raja Bell punctuated a physical game by giving Sprewell a hard forearm to the chest during a drive toward the lane.
Sprewell charged Bell in a profane confrontation, picking up a technical foul after Bell was whistled for a flagrant.
“It’s over with,” Sprewell said later. “I can play physical. I can play clean. However you want to do it, I’ll do it.”
The jawing continued during the dead ball, and Bell exchanged obscene barbs with the Minnesota bench.
“Horrible,” was the way Bell described the call. “I just stood him up. That’s not a flagrant foul. That’s not trying to hurt anybody.”
Wally Szczerbiak scored 17 points for the Wolves, who set a season high for free-throw attempts with 49. They made 40, scoring their last 22 points—over the final 7:15—at the foul line.
“Every time we went down the court, there was a call or a foul,” Arroyo said.
The Wolves, who shot 50 percent in the first half, used a 33-8 run to build a lead as large as 23 points. Cassell scored 11 points in the second quarter, and Szczerbiak added six.
Utah didn’t come out with the urgency of a team trying to make the playoffs. Giricek, who had 10 points in the first half, was called for a shot-clock violation and then threw a pass off Kirilenko’s shin that went out of bounds.
Minnesota’s defense, though, deserved credit. During the winning streak, which dates to March 27, the Wolves have held their opponents to 82.3 points a game.
“Utah just tries to muck it up,” Szczerbiak said. “Sometimes you’ve gotto match what they’re trying to do. We went right back at them.”
PG Troy Hudson (ankle) was eligible to come off the injured list, but the Timberwolves decided to rest him at least another day. … Utah missed a chance to join Portland as the only Western Conference teams to take the season series from Minnesota. The Jazz and Wolves split their four games. … Cassell howled in pain during an early timeout after bending one of his fingernails. Teammate Ervin Johnson grinned at him and said, “Man, you need a pedicure or something.” … Utah finished 14-27 on the road, and Minnesota went 31-10 athome.