MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Minnesota Timberwolves insist they’re trying to win as many times as they can, and they’re playing like they mean it.
The woebegone New York Knicks haven’t been so convincing.
“This was a huge win for us, if we want to leapfrog them in the standings,” Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman said. “Hopefully there can be lessons learned from that.”
The Wolves (18-51) and Knicks (19-50) are both in the NBA’s bottom five, fighting for draft position and figuring out which young players are keepers over the season’s final weeks. But Minnesota fans hoping for a prime spot in the lottery should probably start to phase out that hope.
“We play the way we play tonight, it’s hard to beat us,” said Al Jefferson, who had only eight points, just his third single-digit scoring game of the season for Minnesota. “We ain’t trying to lose games for no pick or nothing. We’re trying to win. We’re trying to fight it out. That’s what we doing.”
For New York, reserve Malik Rose had 20 points. Coach Isiah Thomas spent the week insisting the franchise’s future includes him, and he ordered up another evaluative starting lineup, with Zach Randolph benched in favor Randolph Morris.
“I think our young players are getting more playing time and more experience out there,” Jamal Crawford said. “Every game, you try to find something positive out of it.”
With Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry done for the season and Quentin Richardson—who didn’t play Friday, either—not on the trip for what the team called personal reasons, Crawford was the only preferred starter on the floor. His backup, Nate Robinson, also sat out due to a sprained right knee.
The Knicks sure looked ready for this dysfunctional season to be finished, with a pickup-game effort from an identity-lacking group.
“It’s been a very big disappointment, the whole season,” said David Lee, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. “I can’t put my finger on one thing that it is, but it’s obviously not the way we all envisioned the season to go. At this point, we’re going to try to finish it out with a lot of pride right now and look towards next year—hope we’re not going to go through this again.”
After shooting 1-for-8 in Friday’s loss to the Grizzlies, Morris went 0-for-3 in less than four minutes and didn’t return again until early in the fourth quarter. Crawford chucked up 19 shots, finishing with 16 points, and the 33-year-old Rose was really the only player beyond Lee who lent much energy to the cause.
“The first quarter was a nightmare,” Thomas said. “We gave up 42 points in the first quarter, and it was all uphill from there.”
That was a franchise first-quarter record for Minnesota, which never trailed, held a 44-33 rebounding edge, a 25-4 advantage in fast-break points and matched a season best with 29 assists.
The Wolves have been doing the developmental thing for months now, and their young core put together one of their strongest games this season—despite the lifeless opponent.
After giving up 124 points in a Friday defeat in Indiana while the playoff-aspiring Pacers shot 16-for-27 from 3-point range, Minnesota built a 20-point lead before the end of the opening period.
Kirk Snyder—the latest addition to this team—had his best game for the Wolves with 15 points and eight rebounds. Jefferson had one of his quietest nights of the season, but it didn’t matter. He even racked up a career-high six assists.
Coach Randy Wittman wasn’t about to let up. He yelled at McCants before the half after he celebrated a bit too much following a 3-pointer and didn’t get back on defense fast enough. In the third quarter, Randy Foye got chewed out for a turnover and defensive lapse that gave Crawford an easy fast break and layup.
“Hopefully a lot of us get re-signed here and see this thing grow for years to come,” Gomes said. “That’s our goal, to build continuity with the team and with the players we got here.”
Minnesota’s Mark Madsen was loudly cheered when he entered in the final minutes, his second appearance in the last 20 games. … Thomas said Randolph would play in Monday’s game against New Jersey. … Timberwolves point guard Sebastian Telfair (sprained left ankle) missed his eighth straight game, but Wittman said he’s feeling better and should play again before the season’s over. … Thomas and Wittman won an NCAA championship together with Indiana in 1981, and Thomas smiled wide when asked about that. Wittman hit a big shot before halftime in the title game to give the Hoosiers momentum for their win over North Carolina. “This time of year always brings back those kind of memories,” Wittman said.