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Wolves get much-needed win over Rockets

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

HOUSTON -- The Timberwolves summed up their play over the past month in the final seven minutes of Monday night's game at the Toyota Center.

The Wolves scored 11 of the first 13 points in the fourth quarter to turn a tie score into a nine-point lead. A couple of more baskets might have knocked out the Houston Rockets. Instead, the Wolves turned inconsistent.

Houston came back and even took the lead before Kevin Garnett hit a fadeaway jumper over Rockets center Yao Ming in the lane with 18.8 seconds left to help the Wolves win 94-88. It was their 51st victory of the season, tying a franchise record.

"Some nights it looks like we have it, and some nights we have a Denver and L.A. night,'' Garnett said, referring to losses last week to the Nuggets and Lakers. "But we have to keep pushing. We're going to have nights where it gets difficult, but we have to stay consistent with the ball movement. Stay consistent with our theme and what we're trying to accomplish here.''

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Beating the Rockets was as close to a must win as it could get for the Wolves. A loss would have dropped their Midwest Division lead over San Antonio to a half-game, and it would have given the Rockets, a possible first-round playoff opponent, a 3-1 advantage in the season series. Instead, the Wolves maintained their11⁄2-game; lead over the Spurs, evened the season series with Houston at 2-2 and ended a 2-2 road trip that began 0-2.

"We knew it would be tough by who we were playing,'' Wolves coach Flip Saunders said of the road trip. "I thought it was important to go home with a lead in the division and put ourselves in the position to take control of our own destiny.''

The Wolves are 6-5 in their past 11 games, and the importance of winning is making itself clear. Starting point guard Sam Cassell let his emotions get the best of him late in the first half, with the Wolves in the midst of a field-goal drought that lasted more than four minutes. Cassell slammed the ball to the floor while walking back upcourt after a breakaway layup by Houston's Jim Jackson, and then had to be pulled back into the huddle by teammate Ervin Johnson during a timeout. Saunders spoke briefly with Cassell during the timeout, and Garnett wrapped his arm around Cassell's neck as they walked back onto the court.

Cassell declined to elaborate, saying only, "Good teams get emotional; we need to get emotional.''

Saunders said: "He was frustrated. We got into a stretch where they were making a run; we tried to make too many home runs. I tried to tell him to move the ball. He said, 'I'm not going to pass it to anybody.' As usual, after 25 to 30 seconds, he settled down. And he made some huge plays.''

Game summary, Page 5D

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