Daily Confidential

With Sam Cassell back in the lineup, the Los Angeles Clippers have begun to turn around their season.

Cassell looks to beat up on his former team and the Clippers try to move above .500 as they host the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.

Los Angeles (21-21) got back to .500 for the first time since Dec. 11 by beating New Jersey 102-101 on Cuttino Mobley's last-second 3-pointer Thursday. The Clippers blew an 18-point lead, but Mobley secured the victory by burying the shot with 0.6 seconds left after Cassell had driven the lane and kicked out to him.

"Coach called a pick-and-roll and Sam got deep in the lane," Mobley said. "Luckily, Sam saw me. I set my feet and it went in. We read a good play, Sam found me, case closed."

The Clippers haven't been above .500 since Dec. 9, when they were 10-9. A slump followed and Cassell missed 10 games, but since he's been back, Los Angeles is beginning to resemble the team that won 47 games last season. The Clippers have won four straight and six of their last seven as they close out a five-game homestand on Saturday. Los Angeles - which is 16-7 at home - has won seven of its last eight games at Staples Center.

"Sam's made a great difference," Clippers forward Elton Brand said. "Down the stretch - or any time in the game - he's such a threat that teams have to honor him. It makes it a lot easier when Sam is back."

Cassell has three double-doubles in his last four games and is averaging 17.5 points and 8.6 assists in eight contests since returning from a seven-game absence due to plantar fasciitis in his left heel. He's particularly enjoyed facing the Timberwolves, who unceremoniously traded him to Los Angeles before 2005-06, partly because the team fell from the Western Conference finals in 2004 to a lottery team in 2005. He's averaged 24.5 points in two meetings with Minnesota this season and 17.0 points in six games over the last two years.

"To blame me for our faults after I helped us get to the Western Conference finals?" Cassell said after the teams played on Nov. 25. "They tried to drag my name through the mud ... but I'm over it right now. I'm not bitter at no one."

The Timberwolves (20-22) have enough problems of their own these days. They've lost six straight, including the first two under interim coach Randy Wittman, who took over for Dwane Casey, who was fired on Tuesday after just 1 1/2 seasons in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves, who are winless heading into the finale of a five-game road trip, blew a five-point lead with 1:11 to go and lost 102-100 to Seattle on Friday, two days after losing in 101-98 in overtime to Portland on Wednesday in Wittman's debut.

"They came out and put together three minutes of good basketball and we never recovered from that," said Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, who finished one assist shy of his first triple-double in nearly two years. "We've got to finish games off better."

Garnett had 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but missed a one-handed 10-footer in the closing seconds that could've given Minnesota the lead. Trenton Hassell also missed from 18 feet with 3 seconds to go, sealing the loss.

"We're playing with a lot of effort, we just got to learn to finish the games off," Garnett said.

Los Angeles has won four of the last six meetings between the teams, including the last three at Staples Center.

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