After going 0-6 on a trip up and down the West Coast in which they held halftime leads in all six games, the Timberwolves turned it around at home against a Kings team fighting for playoff positioning.
Trenton Hassell had 12 points to go with tight defense on Ron Artest, Rashad McCants scored 11 points and Mark Blount added 10 for Minnesota, which nearly let Sacramento steal a victory in the closing seconds but got the last eight points from Garnett—six of them on free throws.
Mike Bibby, who has scored at least 29 points in four of his last seven games, led the Kings with 35.
Artest, who had 11 points, darted in front of his man in anticipation and stole the ball for what should’ve been an easy layup at the 1-minute mark with the Kings trailing by five. But fittingly on a frustrating afternoon, Artest bounced the ball off his foot for his team’s 28th turnover, a season high.
Garnett swished a foul-line jump shot on the next possession to make it 88-81. Bibby wouldn’t let Sacramento quit, though, and his two free throws brought the Kings within 91-87.
Artest poked the inbounds pass away from Ricky Davis and converted it into an easy layup that cut the lead to two, but after Garnett made another pair of foul shots Bibby’s long 3-pointer bounced out and into Garnett’s hands.
The Wolves (27-39), who have already surpassed last season’s loss total of 38, are on their way to their worst finish since 1995-96, Garnett’s rookie year. All but eliminated from playoff contention, Minnesota entered the game tied for 13th place in the 15-team conference and will use the season’s final 4 1/2 weeks to give more minutes than usual to players like McCants, Marcus Banks and Eddie Griffin whose roles for the future are still undetermined.
The rookie McCants has fulfilled his reputation as a moody, enigmatic performer, but he’s also one of the Wolves’ most talented and explosive players. He had nine of his points before halftime, including a 22-foot jumper in the final minute that gave Minnesota its biggest lead of the half, 40-33.
The Kings, who have only been going seven deep these days, looked a little tired in the third quarter while the Wolves pulled ahead. Corliss Williamson, who had played in only one of the past nine games, made an appearance for Sacramento and clanked a mid-range jumper before letting Garnett score on him in the lane to cap an ugly sequence.
Garnett scored eight straight points for Minnesota to boost its lead to a game-large 11, 61-50, before the Kings overcame their sloppiness (nine turnovers in the third period alone) to rally behind Bibby and climb within 67-64 at the end of the quarter.
Sacramento’s previous season high for turnovers was 21, done twice. The 28 miscues were also the most forced by the Wolves this season and one shy of the franchise record.