MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 11 (Ticker) --
The Minnesota Timberwolves, trying to take the next step from playoff team to legitimate contender, made an impressive statement against the two-time defending NBA champions.
Wally Szczerbiak scored 34 points and Kevin Garnett added 32 as the Timberwolves routed the Los Angeles Lakers, 120-102, for their seventh straight victory.
"Every night, you have to go out and assert yourself and play with confidence in this league," Garnett said. "We were aggressive throughout as a team. We really believe in ourselves. We've got a lot of confidence."
Minnesota nearly became the ninth team in NBA history to make 30 or more free throws in a game without a miss. The Timberwolves finished 30-of-32 from the line after Anthony Peeler missed a pair with 1:28 remaining.
NBA.comTV highlights from Lakers-Wolves:
56k | 300k |
The Lakers couldn't stop Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves on Friday.
Minnesota improved to 26-9, matching the Lakers and Sacramento Kings for the most wins in the NBA. It moved past San Antonio into first place in the Midwest Division.
"We are not going to worry about changing things to play the Lakers," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "We are going to play how we play -- be aggressive and push the ball up the floor."
Shaquille O'Neal scored 29 points and Kobe Bryant contributed 23 for the Lakers, who had a six-game winning streak snapped in its worst loss of the season. Bryant was just 9-of-27 from the field.
"They played above their heads," O'Neal said. "They played excellent. Wally played excellent. They damn near played perfect. In order to beat us, you have to play that way. We made mistakes, but I still felt we could have won the game."
Szczerbiak was 10-of-17 from the field and 13-of-13 from the line, setting career highs for foul shots made and attempted.
"When I go in there, I'm not afraid of contact," Szczerbiak said. "It's tough to make shots when they defend so well, so you have to get points from the line."
Garnett, who made of 11-of-21 shots, played one of his best all-around games of the season with nine rebounds, eight assists, four steals and three blocks.
"He put us on his back and carried us," Minnesota forward Sam Mitchell said. "He showed tonight, like he's shown all year, how valuable he is."
The Lakers routed the Timberwolves, 102-76, at the Staples Center on December 2, but Minnesota gained a measure of revenge Friday.
Los Angeles had won its previous three games by a combined 68 points and did not practice Thursday.
"They were quick, they beat us to loose balls," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They moved the ball well and hit their shots. That was as good a game as we've had played against us this year."
The Timberwolves came out and stayed hot, racing to a 63-55 halftime lead. They shot 63 percent in the opening 24 minutes and finished at 53 percent (41-of-77) against the Lakers, who lead the league in field-goal percentage defense.
Not even an injury to forward Gary Trent could slow down Minnesota. With Terrell Brandon already sidelined following surgery, Trent suffered a sprained high left ankle sprain less than four minutes into the contest and played only six minutes. Mitchell stepped in and played 31 minutes for the Timberwolves.
"We're playing with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of fun," said Szczerbiak. "It's a big win."
The Timberwolves, who beat the Lakers for just the third time in the last seven meetings, never trailed as Szczerbiak scored the game's first five points. Minnesota led by as many as 19 points in the final minute.
"They kicked our tails," Bryant said. "We were fighting an uphill battle the whole way."
Down by as many as 15 in the third quarter, the Lakers closed within 91-86 on Devean George's jumper with 8:26 remaining. Mitchell's jumper, Chauncey Billups' 3-pointer and Szczerbiak's two free throws made it 98-86 with 8:31 left.
The Lakers got the deficit to 98-89 on O'Neal's three-point play with 7:46 to go, but Szczerbiak scored five straight points, giving the Timberwolves a 104-89 lead.
Felipe Lopez and Peeler contributed 13 and 12 off the bench for the Timberwolves. Billups grabbed 11 rebounds for Minnesota, which enjoyed a 51-37 edge on the boards.
Lindsey Hunter contributed 12 points for the Lakers, who shot just under 40 percent (37-of-93).