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It was a good team win

Everyone contributes in Wolves opener

By Mike Wells

Knight Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- For one game, at least, things went mostly as planned for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

There wasn't any bickering about shot selection. Coach Flip Saunders used his deep bench. Nobody came up grabbing an ankle or hamstring. And the Wolves resorted to their defense to overcome a sloppy fourth quarter on offense to beat the New York Knicks, 99-93, on Wednesday night in their season opener in front of 17,295 at the Target Center.

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"Ervin Johnson made a good point--good team win, that's what it was," Saunders said. "Everyone did something that contributed to the win."

Saunders was able to walk around the locker room afterward and congratulate each player, whether it was Kevin Garnett for his 28-point, 20-rebound effort, Mark Madsen for drawing an offensive foul in the fourth quarter, or even Johnson for playing four minutes in the third quarter when starter Michael Olowokandi picked up his fourth foul.

This was how it was supposed to be when the Wolves opened last season, but because of injuries, they rarely were at full strength. Wednesday, the Wolves provided a glimpse of their depth. All five starters scored in double figures, and 10 of the 11 players who dressed played. Led by Garnett's 39 minutes, nine players played at least 15 minutes.

"We're healthy, knock on wood, we're trying to stay healthy," Garnett said. "We've always said if we have everybody healthy like we are, we can do some special things. I don't think the knock on us is that we can't reach our goal. I think the big question mark is if we can stay healthy as a unit."

Saunders used the starting lineup he envisioned when the Wolves overhauled their lineup in the summer of 2003. He teamed the Big Three of Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell with Olowokandi and Wally Szczerbiak. Szczerbiak beat out Trenton Hassell, last season's starter, by having a strong training camp. There was concern about how Szczerbiak would fit in with Garnett, Cassell and Sprewell because those three are the first options offensively. Effective ball movement allowed Szczerbiak to score nine of his 12 points in the third quarter.

Everything seemed to click offensively in the first half for the Wolves. They had 58 points, 15 assists and three players in double figures, and they shot 60 percent from the field.

Through it all, though, they never could break free from the Knicks. Largely because of Jamal Crawford and former Wolf Stephon Marbury, Minnesota's biggest lead was 10 points. Marbury led the Knicks with 27 points, and Crawford added 22.

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