MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—After winning all four games on a West Coast road trip, the Minnesota Timberwolves returned home and feared a letdown.
Kevin Garnett and his teammates quickly dashed those worries.
Garnett scored a season-high 30 points, Wally Szczerbiak added 25 and the Timberwolves won their fifth straight Saturday night, 95-82 over Los Angeles to stop the Lakers’ winning streak at four.
Marko Jaric had 12 points and a season-best nine assists for the Timberwolves, who never trailed and have already beaten the Lakers three times this season.
It’s typical for coaches to be apprehensive, but even Dwane Casey’s players were on edge.
“I was really concerned how we were going to show up tonight, but … everybody surprised me here,” Jaric said. “We played really well.”
Trenton Hassell scored 13 points and tightly guarded Kobe Bryant, who surpassed his average with 35 points and shot 11-for-20 from the floor but never sustained any dominance—save for an eye-popping, up-and-under reverse layup that brought the Lakers to 84-77 with 3 1/2 minutes left.
Once again, Minnesota succeeded at disrupting coach Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. The Wolves played so soundly that they survived a scoreless drought to start the fourth quarter of nearly four minutes and still led by seven. They had six steals, next to five turnovers.
But Minnesota converted that energy into baskets on the other end, constantly moving the ball around to the open man and wearing out the opponent.
“I think they are doing a much better job this year of sharing the ball,” Mihm said. “Last year I think that was their problem. They settled for shots.”
Garnett sandwiched jumpers around a missed 3-pointer by Bryant to lift Minnesota to a 91-77 lead with 1:29 remaining. Then he fed Hassell and Szczerbiak, who had 14 points in the second half, for consecutive dunks in the final minute.
“Part of it is we’re starting to understand each other, learn each other’s games,” Garnett said. “Case has been on us about taking care of the ball, passing the ball. When we do that, we’re tough to beat.”
Down by as many as 17 points, the Lakers climbed back with an 11-2 run to close the first half and came within four, 58-54, on a 3-pointer by Bryant. Mihm had 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter, mostly against Michael Olowokandi.
A little later Szczerbiak, who scored 34 points in the last meeting against Los Angeles, sparked his squad and the crowd with an off-balance layup that drew a foul on Mihm and a subsequent free throw to make it 66-56. Szczerbiak landed on his back and pumped both fists after hearing the cheers.
Jackson called the officiating terrible, then recanted with an apology.
“They weren’t terrible. They were inconsistent,” he said.
The Timberwolves, for their part, have certainly been consistent lately. They have already won four times this season when they’ve trailed by 10 points or more, twice against the Lakers in games on Nov. 9 and Dec. 2. Last week in Los Angeles, Minnesota launched the winning streak by rallying from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter to win 113-108 after scoring 39 points in the fourth.
The Wolves had no early troubles in this one, though, building a 46-29 lead with 4:19 left before halftime when Garnett found Jaric in the corner for a jumper with a quick sidearm pass from the top of the key. Garnett made a 3-pointer, a shot-clock beating 15-footer and a turnaround hook—all against Odom—on the three previous possessions.
Kwame Brown, who finished with two points in 13 minutes, was back for the Lakers after missing the past three weeks with a strained hamstring.
Jackson has been needling the fifth-year power forward about his toughness this week, and before the game Jackson took another subtle shot when he announced Brown would was going to be on the 12-player active list unless something happened “in the next 15 minutes.”
One reason for Brown’s return was a lack of trust in 18-year-old rookie reserve Andrew Bynum to guard Garnett, which Jackson crudely joked was “almost child molestation” when the teams met last week.
Bryant rolled around on the floor in pain for a few seconds in the first half after a pump fake prompted an airborne Eddie Griffin to accidentally kick him in the nose. “I’m no longer super, super sexy,” Bryant joked. “Now I’m just sexy.” … Backup point guard Troy Hudson missed his second straight game for Minnesota, after undergoing a precautionary MRI test on his left knee. He’s day-to-day with his injury, diagnosed as a strained calf. … Lakers point guard Smush Parker, who has scored at least 20 points six times, went scoreless in both games at Target Center this season. … Griffin, who had four points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes, played with the flu and needed intravenous fluids before the game.