2001 NBA Finals

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Crying wolf

Coach guarantees Minnesota will beat top-seeded Spurs

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Posted: Thursday April 19, 2001 8:57 PM
Updated: Friday April 20, 2001 11:20 AM

  Flip Saunders Flip Saunders' T'wolves stumble into the playoffs after dropping five of their last seven. Otto Greule Jr./Allsport

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves overcame the death of a player and an illegal-contract saga to make it to San Antonio.

Now they're talking about overcoming the odds again -- and they're speaking in a tone unusually confident for a No. 8 seed.

"We'll beat San Antonio," proclaimed Minnesota coach Flip Saunders.

"We're going down to win two games," said guard Terrell Brandon.

They will have to upset an opponent driven to satisfy its own hunger.

A year after the Spurs lost their NBA title in a humiliating first-round exit, they enter the playoffs with a healthy Tim Duncan, the best record in the league (58-24) and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Midwest Division champions also have a 3-1 advantage this season over Minnesota, though two of the four went to overtime and three were won by six points or less.

Duncan, who missed last year's playoffs against Phoenix with a knee injury, came back to play in all 82 games and average 22.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.34 blocks per game.

"We played the whole season for a reason," said David Robinson, the team's other 7-footer.

"Now we've laid the foundation, and we've proved that night-in and night-out we can stay focused and win games. We've played better than everybody else for a long stretch of time. Now, it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it."

Heading into Game 1 on Saturday, the Spurs' only concern seems to be Robinson's back. It bothered him early in the season, and he missed his first game of the year on April 8 because it was sore. But he rebounded to total 39 points, 23 rebounds and 13 blocks in wins last week over Dallas and Denver.

To keep his back loose, Robinson has been using a heating pad on the bench and sometimes stretching in the locker room during games.

He didn't play in the Spurs' 105-67 loss to Seattle on Wednesday night, and later he said he still felt sore.

"Fortunately during the playoffs, we have a lot of time to recover," he said. "We're pretty healthy as a team."

Staying healthy also was the Timberwolves' goals in their final games. They simply played out their schedule, dropping four of their last five games to finish 47-35.

Kevin Garnett, who averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the second straight year, sat out Wednesday's loss to Dallas with a relatively minor calf injury. He'll be back for the first playoff game.

"Our best play was that no one got hurt and we got some guys some rest," Saunders said.

And, despite the emotionally draining season, the Wolves managed to finish with the best record ever held by an eighth-seeded team.

Throughout the season, they talked about teammate Malik Sealy, who was killed when he was hit by a drunken driver 11 months ago.

In November, Joe Smith left for the Detroit Pistons, and later, Minnesota's owner and vice president were suspended for reaching an illegal, secret agreement with Smith.

In light of all that, Saunders told his team, making it to the playoffs was "a heck of an accomplishment."

"A lot of people pretty much wrote us off in the preseason," he said. "It says a lot about the character of the players that we have and the leaders we have on the team."

And that is the attitude they will take into the playoffs.

"We've got our work cut out for us," Garnett said. "But at the same time, we're confident that they have their work cut out for them."

Related information
Spurs slip past Blazers to seal NBA's best record
Sam Mitchell thinks if the Timberwolves play their game, they will be just fine. (127 K)
Tim Duncan says Minnesota is a high-energy team that poses some matchup problems. (223 K)
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