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Timberwolves demolish Kings to take 1st
Updated: 2004-04-09 14:18

First place in the Western Conference belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who moved into that lofty position with an impressive performance at one of the league's toughest arenas.

Sam Cassell scored 29 points and Kevin Garnett added 24 points and 17 rebounds as Minnesota moved ahead of Sacramento in the standings with a 94-86 victory Thursday night.

Minnesota rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit against the sloppy Kings, who were held to 17 fourth-quarter points. The Timberwolves moved a half-game ahead of the Kings and 1 1/2 ahead of the idle Los Angeles Lakers.

Minnesota has put itself in good position to earn the top seed for the playoffs. The Wolves won the season series from Sacramento 3-1, giving them the tiebreaker edge.

Minnesota also has a more favorable schedule the rest of the way, while the Kings host the Lakers in their final regular-season game at Arco Arena on Sunday before finishing on the road at Denver and Golden State.

Cassell scored with 1:59 left to make it 83-79 and also had two crucial rebounds in crunch time, including one on a missed layup by Mike Bibby with about 1:30 to play.

Chris Webber had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Bibby added 19 points, seven assists and three steals as Sacramento started a stretch of four games in five nights.

This was a conference showdown so physical it resembled a playoff game more than a late-season matchup. Four of the teams' previous five meetings were decided in overtime, and this one had plenty of drama, too.

After Cassell hit a jumper from the right side with 4:48 left in the third to pull the Wolves within 57-52, Bibby took over. He threw a pretty alley-oop for a dunk by Doug Christie, then made a driving lay-in. He found Webber for a reverse dunk and followed that play by sinking a 15-foot jumper.

Yet the Kings couldn't hold the lead.

Garnett scored the first four points of the fourth, and Wally Szczerbiak's 3-pointer with 10 minutes remaining made it 69-68. Vlade Divac, in jeopardy of going two straight games without scoring, converted a three-point play with 3:16 to go to keep the Kings within 80-78, but then was called for a questionable foul on the other end against Garnett. The Timberwolves took care of the ball the rest of the way.

Brad Miller was whistled for a flagrant foul his sixth personal with 4:18 left for a hit from behind on Michael Olowokandi only moments after picking up his fifth.

Bobby Jackson, the Kings' backup point guard, scored 10 points in 13 minutes in his first game back after missing 24 games with a strained abdominal muscle.

Jackson checked into the game with 2:22 left in the first quarter. He received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd and cheers of "Bobby! Bobby!" He immediately rebounded a missed shot by Christie and scored the putback with an acrobatic move on the baseline.

Minnesota, which had held its last five opponents to 81.6 points and 40 percent shooting, has gone 15 straight games without scoring 100 points, but it hasn't mattered much.

Garnett grabbed 25 rebounds against Sacramento on Dec. 5, the most boards the Kings have given up to one player all season. Sacramento went hard to the glass this time, but still was outrebounded 48-40.

The Timberwolves started the game 7-for-12 (58.3 per cent) but quickly cooled off. The teams were tied nine times in opening period and there were three lead changes.

Sacramento led by as many as 10 in the second quarter and had a 47-39 edge at halftime.

Notes:@ Christie finished with 12 points, his seventh straight game in double figures. ... The teams combined for only eight turnovers in the first half. ... Sacramento is 10-3 at home since the All-Star break. ... Before the game, Kings players wore white T-shirts with pink writing spelling "SARAH 24" in memory of Jackson's mother who died last season of breast cancer. Jackson spoke during halftime about the importance of breast cancer awareness. ... If Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders had been forced to decide whether to insert a superstar right back into the starting lineup after a long absence because of injury, Saunders would do it just like Kings coach Rick Adelman did when Webber returned from a hurt knee. "Rick's situation with Chris, I'd have done the same thing," Saunders said. "With Kevin Garnett, I would have done that."

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