MINNEAPOLIS, Feb. 6 (Ticker) -- Wally Szczerbiak
headed to his first All-Star Game on a high note and took the Minnesota Timberwolves with him.
Szczerbiak scored 30 points as the Timberwolves ended a slump and the first half of the season with a 113-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
"This was big. We were reeling," Szczerbiak said. "We needed to go into the All-Star break with our heads up. It will make our vacation a lot more fun."
Last week, Szczerbiak was named as a reserve to the Western Conference All-Star team, joining teammate Kevin Garnett
. The selection of the third-year guard raised some eyebrows around the league, but Szczerbiak again showed he is worthy choice.
NBA.TV highlights from Blazers-Timberwolves:
Joe Smith was large, with nine points in a first quarter that saw the Wolves up 17 at its end.
He made 11-of-16 shots, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range. One of his 3-pointers gave Minnesota its largest lead in the second quarter and another turned back Portland's last push in the final period.
"I would be working out anyway (if not chosen for the All-Star Game)," said Szczerbiak, who played in the Rookie Challenge his first two years in the league. "There's no excuse not to get rest. I can stay in shape by practicing on Saturday and playing on Sunday. It's not like they're going to kill us out there. As long as I clear my mind and enjoy myself, it will be fun."
scored 21 points and Chauncey Billups
added 18 and 11 assists for the Timberwolves, who had lost six of their last eight games but head to the All-Star break with a 33-16 mark, fourth-best in the strong West.
"We've been through a lot -- having guys hurt, main guys playing major minutes, on the road a lot, and playing very good teams -- and we just have to work our way through it," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "If you told me at the beginning of the year that we would be 33-16 at the break, and a couple of games out of first place, I would've taken it."
Garnett collected 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Minnesota, which shot 57 percent (44-of-77) and beat Portland for the fourth straight time.
"The past couple of weeks have been difficult on us," Garnett said. "Guys are a little banged up. But a win like this, right before the break, is a big confidence-booster."
scored a career-high 35 points for Portland, which goes to the break with a 25-23 record. Considered one of the deepest teams in the NBA, the Trail Blazers got just two points from their bench.
"It's real tough," Wells said. "We won nine out of 10, then to lose three of four ... it's real tough. Now we have five or six days to think about it, recuperate, let our bodies get back to where they need to be."
Smith's two free throws gave Minnesota the lead for good at 5-4 three minutes into the contest. He scored nine points in the period, when the Wolves shot 68 percent (15-of-22) and raced to a 33-16 lead.
The Blazers shot just 33 percent (6-of-18) in the first quarter and continued to struggle in the second period. A 3-pointer by Szczerbiak gave the Wolves their largest lead at 49-26 with 6:06 left.
"Those guys made a statement on the defensive end to start the game," Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. "We stood around and didn't move the ball. That put us in a big hole."
Portland closed to 62-47 at halftime and began firing away from long range in the third quarter. Damon Stoudamire
made three from the arc and Wells added one to cut the deficit to 73-66 with 4:33 remaining. But Smith buried a runner and Szczerbiak dunked to rebuild the lead to 11 points.
The Blazers again got within seven points in the final period. A free throw by Wells made it 93-86, but Szczerbiak answered with a 3-pointer. Portland's Rasheed Wallace
made a 3-pointer to make it 96-89 with 6:39 to play, but Smith made a layup and Sczcerbiak hit a 12-footer for a 100-89 advantage.
"When we have faith in each other, believe in each other, help each other, move the basketball and play Timberwolves basketball, it's a lot of fun to watch and a lot of fun to play," Szczerbiak said.
scored 14 points for the Wolves, who made 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
Stoudamire collected 19 points and 10 assists, Wallace scored 18 points and Dale Davis
added 13 and 15 rebounds for the Blazers, who shot 47 percent (37-of-79), including 11-of-24 from the arc.
"Like Damon said, we had to be gunslingers to get back into the game," Cheeks said. "But when we get back in the game, we have to be a lot smarter."