MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Timberwolves believe this is their year to get out of the first round of the playoffs — and beyond.
A first-place finish in the Western Conference would give them a great start, which is why beating the Sacramento Kings was so important.
Kevin Garnett had 22 points and 24 rebounds for the Timberwolves in a 92-75 victory over the Kings on Thursday night in a matchup of the West’s top teams.
Sam Cassell added 18 points for Minnesota (39-15), which used a whopping 60-34 rebound advantage to beat Sacramento (38-14) in a surprisingly Eastern Conference-style game.
“We’re trying to get that No. 1 seed,” Cassell said. “We’ve got to continue to do what we can to get that seed.”
Peja Stojakovic had 15 points for the Kings, who were held to a season low in points. They were under 90 points for just the third time this season.
“Unfortunately, everyone took turns missing shots,” coach Rick Adelman said.
This budding rivalry has been, recently, one of the tightest matchups in the league. The last four meetings went to overtime, an NBA record, including a 112-109 road win by Minnesota in December.
Brad Miller had 35 points in that one for Sacramento, which is missing the center because of a sprained foot and Chris Webber because of an NBA suspension. That left rookie Darius Songaila, making just his second career start, and Jabari Smith to guard Garnett — a primary reason for the disparity on the boards.
“When you have both big men out, they’ll get their rebounds,” guard Bobby Jackson said. “So we’ve got to make more baskets.”
Garnett didn’t have a great shooting night (he was 8-for-19), but he was a magnet to the basket as usual — grabbing 12 rebounds in the first quarter alone.
Late in the third quarter, Garnett made a pair of no-look passes to Oliver Miller for easy baskets in the lane — the second one was a three-point play that put the Wolves up 61-55.
The rebounding was just one part of the hustle Minnesota showed.
“Hustle plays make the game more exciting,” Garnett said. “It shows the other team, and the refs, who wants the game.”
Sacramento is the league’s highest-scoring team at 105 points per game, but this was one of its worst offensive performances. After tying a franchise record with 16 3-pointers against Boston Tuesday, the Kings fell behind 17-6 with 3:13 left in the first quarter and trailed the entire game.
“When you hold a team 30 under its average, you’re doing something right,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said.
When the Kings missed, they missed badly — even on layups and bank shots in the lane. They missed often, too, hitting just 29.4 percent (15-for-51) in the first half and 33.7 percent for the game.
“I can’t remember the last time we played like that,” Jackson said. “And we still had a chance to win the game. That’s the scary thing.”
The Wolves weren’t exactly pretty themselves, but they didn’t let some sloppy stretches cost them the game. Sacramento came as close as 57-55 and cut it to 72-68 with 7:54 left on two free throws by Smith.
Latrell Sprewell, whose 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists didn’t fully reflect his contribution, led Minnesota on a 20-7 run to close the game.
On consecutive possessions, Sprewell set up a fast-break layup for Wally Szczerbiak and threw a long pass inside to Mark Madsen, whose layup made it 76-68.
Szczerbiak, out since training camp with a sore left foot caused by a plantar fascia strain, scored six points in 16 minutes in his season debut. He entered the game early in the second quarter, smiling at a rousing standing ovation from the crowd of 18,667. Garnett stood up in front of the bench and clapped enthusiastically.
Borrowing a page from Sacramento’s book, Minnesota maximized its depth and got sizable contributions from nearly everyone on the roster. Szczerbiak’s return clearly gave the Wolves some energy.
“It’s big for his confidence,” Cassell said. “World is an important part of this team.”
Notes: Garnett has had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in six games this season and 20 overall. ... Sacramento has lost 11 of its last 13 at Target Center. ... The plus-26 tied a Minnesota team record for rebounding margin.
PBT: The Pacers defeated the Heat 97-93 in Game 2 to even the series at 1-1, which now shifts to Indiana.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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