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Timberwolves chairmen of the boards

Rebounding the key to successful road trip, win over Charlotte

By Robbi Pickeral

Knight Ridder Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C.--Better make space at the top of the Midwest Division. Because the Timberwolves are climbing back there by making more space for themselves in the lane.

The reason the Wolves topped the Hornets, 97-92, at Charlotte Coliseum Monday night is the same reason they pummeled San Antonio last Saturday to go 3-1 this road trip: Rebounding.

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Not only did Minnesota beat up Charlotte 47-28 on the boards, but it was center Rasho Nesterovic's tip-back with 7.9 seconds left that halted the Hornets' late 8-2 run and sealed the victory. The Wolves also out-rebounded the taller Spurs 41-25. With 26 games left in the regular season, Minnesota (38-18) trails division-leading Dallas by one game.

"We rebound a lot because of our length," said Wolves coach Flip Saunders, who moved 7-foot-1 Kevin Garnett back to small forward this season to make his lineup taller. "Now, we're moving people out, too."

Now that they have 6-10, 270-pound Marc Jackson, that is.

Jackson, in his second game since being traded to the Wolves last Thursday, didn't have a great offensive game. That was left to shooting guard Wally Szczerbiak, who scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half, Garnett, who added 21 points to his nine rebounds, and Nesterovic, who continued his strong streak with 14 points and eight rebounds.

But Jackson did have 12 rebounds, including five offensive, in 22 minutes. And perhaps more importantly, "he's very, very physical," Garnett said. "He goes after every rebound very, very aggressively. So when he can get it, the majority of the time he creates opportunities for other guys to get it."

One of the reasons rebounding was so important Monday night was because until the fourth quarter, the Wolves were shooting 42.9 percent. Charlotte, which played all but the first six minutes without star point guard Baron Davis, was shooting 56.9 percent, but led only 69-68 entering the final period because Minnesota outscored it 18-7 on second–; chance points.

Minnesota opened its first significant lead in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. After trailing by as many as eight points in the third, backup point guard Will Avery sandwiched three Szczerbiak free throws with two three-pointers to give the Wolves a 77-71 lead. With 8:08 left in the game, Avery fed Szczerbiak for a three-pointer to give the Wolves their first double-figure lead at 86-76.

"If you're hurting people and pummeling them, you're eventually wearing them down," Saunders said.

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Can Minnesota do the same thing Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal?

"We're gonna try," Saunders said. "They've got a big noseguard. We're going to try to run around the end, try to pummel them that way."

Center Elden Campbell led the Hornets with 23 points. Davis, who had been averaging 24.7 points since he played in the All-Star Game earlier this month, was taken to the hospital after he bruised his chest by charging into Wolves forward Joe Smith. Smith was hurt in the second quarter when Campbell poked him the left eye.

But Smith returned in the second half and finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.

"Rebounding hurt us tonight," Hornets reserve Jamal Mashburn said.

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