Timberwolves 94, Cavaliers 88

Friday, February 18th 2005, 6:45 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ For someone who wanted nothing to do with the coaching profession, Kevin McHale sure seems to be suited for it.

Wally Szczerbiak scored 26 points off the bench, and Kevin Garnett added 20 points, 18 rebounds and six assists to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 94-88 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.

``Kev's got us playing beautiful basketball, unselfish basketball,'' Garnett said. ``He's like a breath of fresh air.''

Since McHale took over for his old college buddy Flip Saunders, the Timberwolves have shown a spark and enthusiasm that had been sorely lacking during their monumentally disappointing start to the season.

``We have to outwork the opponent every game,'' said McHale, who is 2-1 since taking over for Saunders on Sunday. ``That doesn't mean points, that doesn't mean rebounds, that doesn't mean assists. It means digging in and beating somebody to a rebound.''

After sleepwalking through the first half of the season, the Timberwolves have embraced McHale's credo.

``They're playing a lot different,'' Cavaliers guard Jeff McInnis said. ``They are taking on McHale's personality and playing a lot harder.''

In the only other game Thursday night, Dallas beat Phoenix 119-113.

The Cavaliers were looking for their 31st victory before the All Star break after winning just 35 games all last season. Were it not for LeBron James' illness, they just might have pulled it off.

James had 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, but was helped to the locker room early in the fourth quarter while battling exhaustion from being ill. After getting fluids in the locker room, James returned to the court with just over four minutes to play and had to drop to his knees in the huddle during a timeout.

James didn't address the media after the game. A team spokesman said that he was being treated for the flu.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 24 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, but the output from Cleveland's two All-Stars wasn't enough to offset Minnesota's 55-6 edge in bench scoring.

Szczerbiak led the way off the bench, with Fred Hoiberg adding 13 points and Eddie Griffin chipping in nine points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

``Our bench killed them,'' Szczerbiak said. ``We've got the ability to do that. We've got a really potent second unit. We can come in with some players that are really being aggressive and looking to score. That can keep teams on their heels and take the wind out of their sails.''

That was certainly the case with Cleveland. When James went to the bench to catch a breather, the Cavs seemed lost, unable to find the scoring punch needed to keep up with the well-balanced Wolves.

McInnis did his best to fill in, hitting two big jumpers off drives to the basket that gave Cleveland an 81-79 lead with 4:30 to play.

The Timberwolves responded with an 11-2 run. Garnett hit a layup and jumper, Szczerbiak added a jumper of his own and Garnett was able to slither in for an offensive rebound off a missed free throw from Eddie Griffin that led to a 90-83 advantage with 1:27 to play.

James scored six more points after returning to the court, but Griffin sealed the win when he took a no-look pass from Garnett and made a reverse layup with 23 seconds to go.

McInnis had 17 points and seven assists, and Drew Gooden added 12 points and 10 boards for Cleveland.

``It was frustrating,'' Ilgauskas said. ``At some point, we have to figure this out. Really good teams that go deep in the playoffs win games like that and we haven't.''

Mavericks 119, Suns 113

At Phoenix, Michael Finley matched his season high with 33 points, Josh Howard had a career-high 30 and Dallas overcame a 10-point halftime deficit.

Dirk Nowitzki added 16 points and 16 rebounds to help Dallas sweep its four-game trip.

Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 31 points and 12 rebounds, Quentin Richardson had 22 points, and Steve Nash added 19 points and 11 assists.