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It's now three straight

Timberwolves stop Pistons

Knight Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Before the game, Flip Saunders leaned against a courtside stanchion and made a pre-game assessment that qualified as breaking news about as much as "sun sets in west": His Minnesota Timberwolves and their Monday opponent, the Detroit Pistons, have some questions to deal with.

So it goes when a Western Conference finalist of the previous year is barely playoff-worthy after half a season, and the defending NBA champions seem on the verge of apocalyptic collapse at the same stage. And while an 86-83 loss to the Wolves before 17,439 at Target Center might have officially ushered Detroit into Three Mile Island territory, it was that much of a relief for the victors.

The Wolves (22-19) wanted to believe that they were right about playing better lately. They wanted to believe they'd found the right rotation. They wanted to believe back-to-back wins on the road weren't for naught, with 11 of the next 14 games at home presenting a chance for revival.

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And after gutting one out -- building a 14-point first-half lead, watching a 14-point first-half lead dwindle and then disappear with 25.8 percent shooting after halftime, then making critical defensive stops and free throws in the last minute to cling to a win -- they can believe it, for now, which is about as good as they can expect.

"We've won two before and then come back and blown the third game," Wolves guard Troy Hudson said. "Tonight, we played a great team in Detroit, the world champions. That shows right there this is a push forward."

The bench poured in 45 points, led by Wally Szczerbiak's 15 and Eddie Griffin's 14 points, 10 rebounds and career-high-tying seven blocks. The win gave Minnesota its first three-game winning streak since a five-game win streak ended on Dec. 7.

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