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Wolves lose game, 2 players

By Brian Hamilton

Knight Ridder Newspapers

LOS ANGELES -- Like an engraved invitation to finally get their act together, the schedule lay shimmering before the Minnesota Timberwolves coming out of the all-star break. Six of the first seven games against sub-.500 teams. The first against the Los Angeles Clippers, losers of eight in a row overall, nine straight to Minnesota.

And like a bronze memorial plaque of all things haywire with the season to date, a 92-86 loss to the Clippers in front of 18,569 at Staples Center on Thursday night commemorated a stumbling, uninspired start to the stretch run.

The confidence was bubbling after two pre-break victories under Kevin McHale, but this was precisely the kind of slipshod effort that cost the guy McHale replaced his job.

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What's more, two Wolves frontcourt players were injured. Forward Eddie Griffin suffered a fractured left index finger in the first half and will be out indefinitely. He will see a hand specialist when the Wolves return to Minnesota. Center Michael Olowokandi hyperextended his right knee in the final minute. He left Staples Center on crutches and will undergo tests on Friday.

The Wolves, back under .500 at 27-28, need some remedial reading in the book of McHale. After two games in which Minnesota outrebounded opponents by double digits, the Clippers (24-31) hit the glass for 16 offensive rebounds. The Los Angeles front line dominated, with Elton Brand pumping in 24 points on 12-of-24 shooting and snaring seven rebounds. Chris Kaman added 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Corey Maggette tacked on 23 points.

"Their surge was all going to the basket," McHale said. "That surge has got to change direction. We weren't putting up enough resistance."

Kevin Garnett, looked as if he could've used a few more days off. The Wolves' all-star forward shot just 6 of 16, scored only 14 points and grabbed just eight rebounds while fighting second-half foul trouble and earning a technical foul with 33 seconds left.

"Rhythm-wise, I didn't hit the shots I'd normally hit," he said.

As for McHale's diplomatic policy of going with the hot hand, Wally Szczerbiak scored 12 points in the first half and then took just two shots in the second.

Zero effectiveness on the boards (two offensive rebounds in the entire first half), no presence in the lane (the Clippers had 26 first-half points in the paint) and sloppy ballhandling (10 turnovers) dug the Wolves' early hole, which was as large as 14 and settled on nine at halftime.

"We started off poorly, and we never recovered from that," McHale said. "We never got our offense rolling at the level we needed to."

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