Posted Jan 14 2007 7:00PM
A boost in confidence - and offense - have the Minnesota Timberwolves playing their best basketball of the season. The Detroit Pistons could use a similar lift in both of those areas.
The Timberwolves (19-16) try to continue their impressive run when they visit the Pistons (21-14) on Monday in the teams' first meeting this season.
Minnesota closed out 2006 with a 13-15 mark but has won six of seven games in the new year, including a 109-98 victory over New Jersey on Saturday.
The Timberwolves improved to 13-2 when scoring 100 or points or more, and have hit triple digits in six of their last seven contests after doing it just nine times in the previous 28.
"We're on a big roll,'' Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett said. "We're playing confident basketball.''
Garnett has sparked that confidence by averaging 27.0 points over the last seven games, a bump up from his 22.8 season mark. The Timberwolves star matched his season high with 32 points Saturday, going 11-for-11 from the free-throw line, and grabbed 14 rebounds to surpass 10,000 for his career. He's the 32nd player in NBA history to hit the milestone.
He got plenty of help in the win, as Ricky Davis scored 17 points while Randy Foye and Mark Blount both bounced back from single-digit performances with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Minnesota shot a season-high 56.9 percent (37-of-65) from the floor and went 32-of-35 from the free-throw line to earn a double-digit margin of victory for the first time in its last six wins.
"I definitely think it's going to be like this for the rest of the year. We might get some games where we're able to blow it open or open the doors," Foye said. "Us playing these close games now is preparing us for the end (of the season)."
The Pistons haven't had much luck in close games lately. All but two of their last nine games have been decided by less than 10 points - and they've recorded just three wins during that span.
Detroit is coming off one of those victories Saturday, though, defeating Boston 81-73 despite recording its second-lowest point total of 2006-07 and shooting a season-worst 34.1 percent (29-for-85).
"We're struggling, and all our guys know that,'' said Pistons second-year coach Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves' all-time winningest coach at 411-326 in nine-plus seasons in Minnesota. "(Saturday), the effort was there, and that's what has been missing. We just need to find a flow again and just start playing.''
Four of Detroit's starters scored in double figures Saturday. Leading scorer Richard Hamilton had 22 points and Flip Murray added 21 as he continued to start in place of injured guard Chauncey Billups, who has missed seven games with a strained right calf.
The Pistons are hoping to get their second-leading scorer back midweek. Minnesota is again expected to be without forward Marko Jaric, who has been sidelined for two straight games with an injured thumb on his shooting hand.
The Pistons won both matchups with the Wolves last season by an average of 20.0 points, and have taken four of the last five meetings in Detroit. The clubs meet again Friday in Minneapolis.
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