Minnesota 117, Phoenix 107

MINNEAPOLIS, January 23 (AP) -- Al Jefferson led Minnesota to another unlikely victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Jefferson had a career-high 39 points and 15 rebounds, and the Timberwolves won two in a row for the first time this season, 117-107 over the Western Conference leaders on Wednesday night.

Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix with 33 points, but only 19 of them came in the last 43 minutes. The Suns, whose 30-13 record is behind only Boston for league supremacy, had their four-game winning streak stopped.

Jefferson was the reason for that. He helped Minnesota (7-34) take a lead as big as 21 points in the first half and helped hold off a late surge by the visitors.

Leandro Barbosa's 3-pointer near the 4-minute mark cut the lead to 102-92, but Jefferson followed by attacking Stoudemire and drew a foul by Raja Bell for a three-point play to keep the Suns at a distance.

Steve Nash had 21 points and 16 assists, but it wasn't enough to keep Phoenix from losing to Minnesota for the second time this season.

Stoudemire started the game with 12 points, including two dunks, and two steals over the first five minutes to lift Phoenix to a predictable 16-6 lead.

The Suns did little for most of the rest of the half, perhaps tired from playing on consecutive nights or simply surprised by such energetic resistance from a team with the league's worst record. The team they beat at home last week by 20 points.

The Suns should not have been so shocked by this. The Timberwolves picked up their third victory of the season against them here on Dec. 8 when Jefferson had 32 points, his previous personal best, and 20 rebounds in a 100-93 decision.

Jefferson, the centerpiece of the Kevin Garnett trade who has so far been the only unquestionable keeper of all the young guys Minnesota is building around, took his team for a fun ride in this one, too.

He went at Stoudemire aggressively and was all over the boards, grabbing six offensive rebounds before halftime and keeping alive several possessions with a timely tip to a teammate. The Timberwolves held a 20-4 edge in first-half second-chance points.

At one point, Jefferson missed an easy lay-in, but leaped high to tip it in for a 62-42 lead. He grinned on his way back to the other end, obviously realizing it was his night.

Even struggling rookie Corey Brewer (10 points in the first half) and the sporadically used Antoine Walker (seven points, two rebounds, one steal and one assist in 13 first-half minutes) were factors. Up-and-down guard Marko Jaric chipped in 15 points.

This was just one out of 82 for the surging Suns, a certainty for the playoffs and a legitimate challenger for the NBA title. With their defensive problems and recent history of flaming out before June, however, these two losses to Minnesota might be worth worrying about.

The Wolves, for their part, are playing better. They came within three in a defeat by Denver on Saturday, and left Golden State on Monday with a one-point win.

Notes: The Suns are 1-7 this season on the road when they trail after the first quarter. ... The Wolves are closer to a comeback by point guard Randy Foye, but coach Randy Wittman wasn't ready to declare a target return date. Foye returned to practice this week, but his time on the court will be rationed for awhile. ... Phoenix backup point guard Marcus Banks, who left Minnesota as a free agent in 2006 after arriving in the Wally Szczerbiak trade with Boston, has struggled and played sparingly despite a fast-break style that ought to work with the Suns. "It's not a real good fit right now,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said.


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