|New York @|
|93 - 99|
Kevin Garnett began his quest to repeat as league MVP with 28 points and 20 rebounds, and the Timberwolves beat the New York Knicks 99-93 in Wednesday's season opener.
``We've always said that when we're all healthy, this is a special team,'' said Garnett, who led the Wolves to the Western Conference finals last spring -- losing to the Los Angeles Lakers with point guards Sam Cassell and Troy Hudson out with injuries.
Latrell Sprewell, whose complaints about his lack of a contract extension were the talk of the town this week, had 10 points against his former team.
Cassell added 19 points and 11 assists for the Timberwolves, who revamped their roster before last season only to see Hudson, Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi get hurt and miss most of it.
Stephon Marbury, also up against his old club, led the Knicks with 27 points. Jamal Crawford, in his first game with New York, capably filled Allan Houston's spot in the starting lineup with 22 points on 10-for-23 shooting.
Seventeen of those came in the first half, though, and Crawford was silent when Minnesota's stopper, Trenton Hassell, guarded him in the fourth quarter. Crawford came from Chicago in a summer trade.
``I like what he's doing,'' said Lenny Wilkens, beginning his first full season as New York's coach. ``He's going to get better and better.''
A free-flowing game came to a sloppy end, thanks largely to Minnesota's defense. The Knicks went the final 7:57 without a basket. Michael Sweetney's dunk cut the lead to 88-86, but that was as close as they came.
New York, which went 39-43 last season and was swept by New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs, has a young, small team that's short on defense. Sweetney, in his second year, and rookie Trevor Ariza played extensively in the fourth quarter.
``That builds character for them as players,'' Marbury said. ``We're expecting great things from them down the road.''
Marbury, whose dislike for sharing the spotlight with Garnett led to his trade to the Nets in 1999, had a chance to pull New York within four points at the foul line -- but he missed one of two shots to leave the lead at 98-93 with 11.2 seconds remaining.
``We played against a really good team,'' Marbury said. ``The only positive is that we played hard the whole way.''
The Timberwolves, who moved into the new Northwest Division this season, are favorites to challenge for the NBA championship, partly due to their depth and balance -- and they were on display against the Knicks.
``That's one of the dangerous things about our team,'' Sprewell said. ``If one guy isn't going well, we have other guys who can pick it up.''
Someone was always there to pick up the scoring slack. Szczerbiak had nine of his 12 points in the first quarter. Garnett scored 10 straight points over the end of the first and beginning of the second. Reserve Fred Hoiberg hit a pair of 3-pointers before halftime, and Cassell contributed six of the last 11 points of the first half to give his team a 58-51 lead.
Sprewell made back-to-back 3s early in the third to make it 69-59 Minnesota, and Hudson did the same late in the third and early in the fourth to give the Timberwolves a five-point cushion after Marbury cut the lead to 81-79 with a 3 of his own.
Assuming everyone stays healthy, coach Flip Saunders faces a tricky proposition finding room on the floor for his top eight or nine players.
``Some nights one guy might not get as much time as he wants,'' Hudson said. ``But to win a championship you've got to make some sacrifices.''
Houston, who sat out the final 32 games of the regular season and the playoffs last year with chronic pain in his left knee, is on the injured list. He couldn't remember the last time he couldn't play in a season opener, including college and high school. ``It's going to be hard, but it's a long season,'' Houston said following the team's morning shootaround. ``When those lights come on in May and June, that's when I want to be out there.'' ... The Wolves have won 10 straight home openers. ... The Knicks have dropped six of their last seven against Minnesota.