“We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves,” said Garnett, who took just one question after the Wolves’ 107-104 setback to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. “That’s a tough thing to swallow.”
Minnesota, which finished with the best record in the Western Conference last season and eliminated Denver in a first-round playoff series, fell 4 1/2 games behind seventh-place Denver and 3 1/2 behind eighth-place Memphis in the race for the final playoff spot in the West.
“We’ve got to go 6-0 the rest of the way,” Garnett said.
Garnett had 26 points and 16 rebounds for the Wolves, who had won seven of their previous eight games in a late-season dash for the playoffs. But despite rallying from a 12-point second-half deficit to tie the score twice in the fourth quarter, Minnesota couldn’t take the lead and Sam Cassell’s potential game-tying 3-pointer missed with 2 seconds left.
“It could’ve gone both ways, and we made more plays down the stretch,” Miller said.
Kenyon Martin added 24 points for the Nuggets, who improved to 27-6 under George Karl and won for the 20th time in their last 22 games. Denver also has won nine of its last 10 road games.
“We have confidence and swagger, and Coach has made us believe in his way of playing the game,” Martin said.
Sam Cassell kept the Wolves in the game in the second half, scoring 19 of his 27 points after the break. In the fourth quarter, Cassell scored Minnesota’s first eight points and made his first four shots. But he missed his final four, including the shot that could have tied it.
“We’ve got to have all of them so this is a major setback,” Cassell said. “But it ain’t over yet.”
Anthony gave Denver the lead for good at 98-96 when he dunked an alley-oop pass from Miller with 3:17 left in the game. Martin, who scored 19 in the second half, drove for a layup to extend the lead to four, and the Wolves never got closer than two the rest of the way.
Those two key baskets were fitting, as Denver outscored Minnesota 48-20 in the paint.
“We were getting dunks; they were getting jump shots,” Karl said.
Denver built a 94-90 lead but Wally Szczerbiak tied it again at 96 with two free throws with 3:29 to play.
Anthony, who averages 20 points per game, nearly had that many by halftime. He scored 19 in the first half on 7-of-8 shooting from the field.
The Wolves failed to get back on defense on numerous occasions in the first half. Denver players beat their opponents down the floor for fast-break dunks on four separate occasions in the first quarter alone. They outscored Minnesota 30-10 on the fast break.
Minnesota, which shot just 33 percent in the first half, stayed in the game by making 17 of 19 from the free throw line and trailed by only three at the break.
The Nuggets also ended some recent frustrations at Target Center, winning for just the fourth time in their last 17 visits. … Before the game, Wolves coach Kevin McHale said Karl should get Coach of the Year consideration, despite his limited stint in Denver. “I’m telling you from experience that it’s hard to take over a team in the middle of the year,” said McHale, who replaced Flip Saunders as Wolves coach on Feb. 12. … The sellout crowd of 19,904 was the Wolves’ largest home crowd of the season. … Miller’s 15 assists were a season high and he scored in double digits for the 11th straight game.