Seattle 85, Minnesota 82

SEATTLE, March 23 (AP) -- Figuring out how to win close games has remained a season-long struggle for the Seattle SuperSonics.

The Sonics solved that problem on Friday night. And this victory might be their most unexpected.

Trailing by nine with 4 minutes left, and playing without All-Star Ray Allen, Seattle used a late flurry and key baskets from Rashard Lewis to stun the Minnesota Timberwolves 85-82.

Lewis' 3-pointer with 1:41 left gave Seattle its first lead at 79-77, after which Lewis unleashed a guttural scream that was equal parts excitement over taking the lead, and a release of frustration about a poor shooting night.

Lewis followed with a one-handed rebound dunk on the Sonics' next possession and Seattle hit four free throws in the final minute to hand Minnesota yet another road defeat.

"I wasn't really making shots at all, and I finally made a couple,'' Lewis said. "I was just kind of letting that stress out a little bit.''

Lewis shot just 7-of-20, but finished with 22 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter when the Sonics trailed by as many as 11. Dropping close games has become the norm for Seattle this season, losing 19 by six points or less. That included Wednesday night's 108-106 home loss to Washington when Gilbert Arenas scored at the buzzer.

Minnesota, which snapped an 11-game road losing streak on Wednesday at Sacramento, appeared on its way to winning consecutive road games for the first time since mid-January. But the Timberwolves were outscored 19-7 over the final 4:10, losing for the 16th time in their last 18 road contests.

"We just panicked. We lost our composure a little bit,'' Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said. "We let this one slip away.''

More importantly, the Timberwolves fell back in the race for eighth place in the Western Conference. Minnesota now trails the Los Angeles Clippers by 3+ games for the final playoff spot.

Rookie reserve Craig Smith led Minnesota with 19 points, and Kevin Garnett grabbed a season-high 22 rebounds, three off his career high. But Garnett didn't score in the final 10 minutes, finished with just 10 points, and Minnesota went nearly the last 4 minutes without a field goal until Smith's putback with 2.4 seconds left got the Timberwolves to 84-82.

"We got stagnant,'' Garnett said. "We weren't aggressive.''

Allen was in Los Angeles on Friday getting his injured left ankle examined, with season-ending surgery becoming more of a possibility.

With Allen absent, Earl Watson became the catalyst, sparking the Sonics with his defense and timely passes in the final minutes. Using a trapping, full-court press, Watson and Damien Wilkins harassed Minnesota into three costly turnovers, giving Seattle extra possessions to rally.

Mike James' 3-pointer with 4:10 left gave the Timberwolves a nine-point lead. Watson then floated an alley-oop to Chris Wilcox, hit Wilkins in stride for a layup behind the Minnesota defense, and banked an off-balance 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 spurt that got Seattle within 75-73.

James hit two free throws to briefly halt Seattle's momentum, but free throws by Wilcox and Watson got Seattle to 77-76 before Lewis' 3-pointer - coming off a pass from Watson.

Watson finished with 14 points and seven assists. Wilkins added 12 points, and Seattle tied a franchise record with just five turnovers.

"I just kept trying stuff,'' Seattle coach Bob Hill said. "It's not fun, necessarily, but it's an interesting time because you just keep trying. ... We finally found it.''

Minnesota had six players in double figures, but Garnett shot just 4-of-12. James and Ricky Davis both had 13, Mark Blount added 12 and Trenton Hassell scored 11.

Wilcox scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but didn't come close to matching his 27-point, 22-rebound performance of Wednesday night against Washington, struggling to find open looks and free rebounds against Garnett.

Notes: Garnett made his 10th 3-pointer of the season in the first quarter for the most he's had in a season since 2003-04 when he made 11. ... Seattle C Nick Collison started after having the cornea of his left eye scratched during Wednesday's loss to Washington. Collison left the arena wearing a patch, but was cleared on Thursday.

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