Minnesota 101, L.A. Clippers 98
LOS ANGELES, April 13 (Ticker) -- Kevin Garnett
had 35 points and 10 rebounds as the Minnesota Timberwolves clinched the fifth seed in the Western Conference with a tightly contested 101-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chauncey Billups added 20 points and 10 assists and Wally Szczerbiak contributed 17 points for Minnesota, which took a
two-game lead over the sixth-place Portland Trail Blazers with two games remaining.
"We don't want to win just one game, we want to be playing well going into the playoffs," Szcerbiak said. "We've secured the fifth spot and we're happy about that but we need to continue to play well. We have 49 wins and we're breaking out of a tough stretch we had there in March. We're playing with more confidence and that's a good thing going into the playoffs."
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Chauncey Billups helped lead the Wolves to the fifth spot in the West.
The Timberwolves finished a four-game road trip 2-2 and snapped a three-game losing streak to the Clippers here.
"It's important to win," said Garnett, who broke the single-season franchise record of 956 rebounds he set in
1999-2000. "I think our focus has to be strong. We can't change our focus because we only have two more games to play.
It's important to compete and not look past the present. Tonight we did that."
Corey Maggette scored 24 points, Quentin Richardson contributed 19 points and Elton Brand had 14 and eight rebounds, but the Clippers lost for the sixth time in their last seven games. They have dropped nine of 11 and will finish the season under .500 for the ninth consecutive season.
"We're going to try and finish the season strong and win the next two games," said Los Angeles forward Darius Miles, who had 12 points. "I knew it was going take time. This season we didn't come out to win a championship. We'll take it step by step. We're a couple of games out of the playoffs this year, and hopefully we can make the playoffs next year."
Garnett hit the go-ahead basket with 1:03 left, putting the Wolves ahead, 99-98. After Earl Boykins missed a jumper for the Clippers, Maggette fouled Billups, who made both from the line with just under two seconds remaining. Szczerbiak intercepted a long pass from Maggette to seal the win.
The Wolves took their largest lead, 29-14, with 2:17 to go in the first quarter Gary Trent's jump shot and still had an
11-point advantage with 8:15 remaining in the second before Los Angeles went on an 18-6 run to take a 42-41 lead with 2:24 before intermission.
"Tonight I just wanted to come out aggressive and make the defense come to me -- they didn't," Garnett said. "I tried to
take advantage of the height matchup with Corey Maggette. For the most part, I was aggressive early."
Richardson snapped an 88-88 tie with a 3-pointer with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter. After Garnett hit a jumper, Richardson restored Los Angeles' three-point lead with 4:20 to go.
Garnett hit a pair of free throws and Billups gave the Wolves a 93-92 edge with two from the line with 3:33 left. Clippers guard Jeff McInnis hit a free throw after Garnett was called for a technical foul and Maggette hit two free throws for a 96-95 lead with 2:51 remaining.
Joe Smith nailed a jump shot for Minnesota but Brand gave Los Angeles its last lead, 98-97, with a hook shot with 86 seconds to go.
Smith finished with 10 points for the Wolves, who shot 52 percent (38-of-74) from the field but yielded 20 points on 12
"We just talked about winning all three remaining games just before this game," Smith said. "Tonight is a start and we need to win in order for us to go into the playoffs on the right note. We need to find time to rest guys but at the same time we need to go out there and win."
Michael Olowokandi had 13 points and eight rebounds as the Clippers shot 55 percent. McInnis contributed nine points and
six assists but left with 63 seconds left when he fell at midcourt and had to be helped off the court.