MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Minnesota Timberwolves have been searching for a third player to emerge as a consistent scorer in coach Dwane Casey’s first season.
Garnett had a season-high 31 points on 14-for-17 shooting and 15 rebounds on Friday night to help Minnesota even its record with a 103-89 win over the Denver Nuggets.
Szczerbiak, who made eight of his final 10 field goals, added 28 points and spurred the Timberwolves on a decisive 20-4 run that closed the third quarter.
“I just understand how this game should be played,” Garnett said, recounting his observation that Szczerbiak was rushing and out of his rhythm in the first half. “I got him to calm down. I got him to wait for me on screens. He actually accepted the advice, and we never looked back from then.”
Carmelo Anthony, held mostly in check by Trenton Hassell and battling a nagging strained left rib cage muscle that worsened during the night, scored eight points in the fourth period to finish with 21 for the Nuggets. Kenyon Martin returned after a one-game bout with back spasms to score 14 points, and Andre Miller also had 14.
The pain became so severe that Anthony wondered if he should take the bench.
“But I didn’t want to come out,” he said. “We were making a run.”
Minnesota (17-17) played one of its most complete games and picked up its second straight victory after dropping 11 of the previous 14 games. It was a timely win, too, against rival Denver (18-19), which is also fighting for first place in the not-so-dominant Northwest Division with Utah (19-17).
“If you want to beat a transition team,” Casey said, “run it back at ‘em.”
Down the hall, Nuggets coach George Karl lamented that his guys played out of character.
“Sometimes I think we try to win games with too many jump shots,” he said.
Szczerbiak had three layups, a 19-footer, a pair of 3-pointers and a free throw—after Anthony earned a technical foul for throwing Mark Madsen to the floor—in the final 4:38 of the third quarter to lead the surge. Denver went nearly four minutes without scoring in a drought that spilled into the fourth, and the run reached 26-4 until Francisco Elson’s jumper more than 2 minutes into the final period.
That’s a look that has worked well for the Wolves this season, with Szczerbiak improving his rebounding and taking advantage of shorter defenders.
“All K.G. wants his teammates to do when he gets doubled is be aggressive,” Szczerbiak said. “I think he can live with aggressive mistakes and live with aggressive misses when you miss an open jump shot. It’s just when you get tentative and you don’t want the ball in your hands and you don’t want to shoot it, that’s when our team gets in trouble.”
Minnesota had stretches of sloppiness, including the first 4 minutes of the second half when Jaric committed two of their three turnovers. Anthony’s driving layup with 4:54 remaining in the third quarter put the Nuggets ahead 62-59 before the Wolves pulled away.
Garnett made three mid-range jumpers, an alley-oop layup and a dunk to spark Minnesota on a 19-5 spurt out of the gate. Denver missed 11 of their first 13 shots before climbing back into the game and eventually taking their first lead, 39-38, on Martin’s pair of free throws with 4:34 left before halftime.
Rookie Rashad McCants chipped in 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting and six rebounds. The moody first-round draft pick, whose contributions have been sporadic, answered with a 3-pointer and then swished a 20-footer to finish with nine first-half points and help the Wolves stay on top at the break, 49-48.
“It’s about getting an opportunity to get out there and get comfortable,” McCants said. “The coaches told me to go out there and just be a player.”
Anthony didn’t sound like he’d miss any time. “I’m going to have to play,” he said. “I’m not going it sit out.” … Nuggets coach George Karl gave Casey his start in the NBA, when Karl ran the show in Seattle. Casey worked under Karl there for four of his first 11 seasons as a Sonics assistant. Karl was proud to see his protegee get a promotion. “Good barroom talk, but it also means you’re getting old,” he cracked. … Denver guard Greg Buckner didn’t dress because he sprained his right wrist in Tuesday’s triple-overtime win over Phoenix.