Minnesota 99, Denver 94 (F)

MINNEAPOLIS, Feb. 14 (AP)-- Centers for the Minnesota Timberwolves have been notable only for the length of their names.

Guys like Rasho Nesterovic, Michael Olowokandi and Stojko Vrankovic have all tried and failed, to varying degrees, to take attention away from Kevin Garnett in the low post.

Finally, it appears, the Timberwolves have found their man.

Mark Blount scored 24 points, including eight in a row in the final 2:30, to lift the Timberwolves to 99-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

With the Nuggets leading 88-85 with under 4 minutes to go, the guy they call "Blizz'' hit three jumpers and two free throws to give them a 93-92 lead with 1:28 to play.

"Blizz is definitely stretching the defense with his ability to make the big shots and make the perimeter shots,'' Garnett said. "He's a forced to be reckoned with when we win. When we win, Mark Blount has always been a big part of it.''

Rookie Randy Foye overcame a shaky game to hit an acrobatic driving layup with 23.3 seconds to go, and the Wolves held on for their third win four games.

Carmelo Anthony had 28 points, five rebounds and five assists and Steve Blake added a career-high 18 assists for Denver, which was outrebounded 46-30, thanks to 19 points and 17 rebounds from Garnett.

"We tried to overemphasize in the scouting report that Mark Blount is probably playing offensively as well as Garnett is,'' Denver coach George Karl said. "He made two big shots. We just didn't recognize that he could make that 20-footer.''

For years the Wolves have been searching for a capable big man to complement Garnett, and Blount has emerged this season after coming over in a trade from Boston last February.

Blount is averaging more than 13 points a game this season and has topped 20 points five times this month. He hit 11 of 19 shots and had eight rebounds against Denver.

"Mr. Consistency,'' Craig Smith said. "Night-in and night-out he makes those kinds of shots.''

The Nuggets led by as many as 11 points and looked to be on the verge of putting the game away at least twice in the third quarter, but the Timberwolves stuck around.

Karl criticized the officiating, especially a non-call when Blake drove into the lane and drew contact late in the game.

"I thought he got hacked - murdered - on that drive down in the lane,'' Karl said. "I have no idea how you lay off that call. That's embarrassing to the league to lay off a call like that.''

Minnesota entered the night trailing Denver by 2+ games for the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff race, and badly wanted this one heading into a four-day All-Star break.

"This is like two wins here,'' Garnett said.

The Nuggets were equally hungry as they start a tough four-game stretch against Western Conference opponents that includes games against San Antonio, Utah and Dallas coming out of the break.

"I think 27-24 would've sounded a lot better than 26-25,'' Karl said. "But I think because of other teams drifting, I think right now we're in a good place.''

It was a matchup of the two teams who fought hard to trade for Allen Iverson in December. Denver eventually won out, swapping Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first-round picks for the 76ers star.

The Timberwolves didn't have near that ammunition to offer, but it didn't make a difference on Wednesday night. Iverson missed his eighth game in the last nine with an ankle injury and will sit out Sunday's All-Star game.

For whatever reason, it took an injury to finally get NBA commissioner David Stern to put Anthony, the league's leading scorer, on the West team. That it took so much maneuvering annoyed Anthony, and he has been taking out his frustration on his opponents.

Last week, he was named Player of the Week after averaging 30.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists in four games.

His dunk with 16 seconds to go pulled Denver to 95-94, but Garnett and Foye closed it out at the line.

"We would've liked to go into the break with a win, but we like where we're at,'' said Marcus Camby, who scored 12 points. "But we know coming off that break we got three tough games ... We have our work cut out for us.''

Notes: Nene scored 12 of his 18 points in the first quarter. ... Wolves coach Randy Wittman received a technical in the third for arguing a defensive three-second call against Minnesota. ... The Nuggets are on the road at San Antonio on Tuesday, then face Utah and Dallas next weekend.

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