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ON THE NBA

Timberwolves' Dream Becomes Same Old Ending

May 02, 2003|Mark Heisler

"They're really entertaining, if you call fear and tension entertaining."

KCBS-FM rock jock and Laker fan Mary Price after Game 4, on the Lakers

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This warmup has been brought to you, courtesy of the best little team that has never won a playoff series.

Of course, the Lakers almost perished during these warmups, but that which doesn't shock your world, as the Minnesota Timberwolves seemed on the verge of doing as recently as Sunday's Game 4, when they led the Lakers by 11 points in the third quarter and 2-1 in the series, makes you stronger.

And, indeed, the gallant tykes forced the Lakers to dial their game way above where it had been so you could say it was just the slap in the face the three-time defending champions needed.

"I think we tested them a little bit," the Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett said. "I think we sort of got under their skin a little bit.... But they took it to another level and never looked back."

The Timberwolves are now 0-7 in the first round and sure to hear plenty about it despite having given the Lakers all they wanted. But you don't get the champions on the ropes often and when you do, it's best not to let them off.

That was what happened in Game 4 when the Timberwolves led by 11

Meanwhile, Troy Hudson and Garnett turned the ball over and then, with 29 seconds left in the period, instead of running the clock down, Garnett missed a 10-footer with 11 seconds left.

The Lakers got it and at the other end, Brian Shaw made a three-point basket out of the corner with two seconds left.

Not that he wants to look back or dwell on it, but Coach Flip Saunders couldn't forget it if he tried.

"We didn't do some things and they made every play down the stretch, which they can do. And then, the fourth quarter, Shaq [O'Neal] and Kobe [Bryant] were big.

"I mean, there's been a lot said that you had to go with Hudson, we kept him out. But [Rod] Strickland had six [points] the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and Troy's legs were a little bit dead going into the fourth quarter....

"In the playoffs, they're going to take away the options of your best players. The only guy that we have that can break you down and get to the basket really is Troy.

"That's the one advantage that the Lakers have in Kobe, in that he can create something out of nothing. You can take away the first and second option and he has the ability to make something happen from 35 feet out on the floor, and get a shot off or as he did in that game, get a lot of free throws."

The surprise, of course, was not that the Timberwolves couldn't beat the Lakers, but that they ever got themselves in position to even think about it.

At that point, the Lakers raised their game and the Timberwolves, if not out on their feet, were getting there. The Lakers drilled them, 62-42, in the second half of Game 5 and turned a 47-43 lead at the half in Game 6 into a rout.

In the first half of Game 5, Hudson scored 14 points. In the second, he went scoreless.

In Thursday night's first half, he had 16. In the second half, he got two.

"We all know that luck is part of everything," said Timberwolf owner Glen Taylor afterward. " ... Probably the only thing that appeared to be unlucky is Portland losing that last game [matching his team, which had just secured the home-court advantage for the first time, against the Lakers], and you think, 'Gosh, why wouldn't they win?' "

Said Saunders: "The Lakers were always the team to beat and I don't think that's going to change. I think there's going to be some great series. It's been a great playoff up to this point ... probably the best first round the league has had."

It was the best first round the Timberwolves have had too. It just wasn't good enough.

Say this for them: If this was the warmup, the real thing should be something.

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