Memphis 102, Wolves 92 (2 OT)

  • Article by: STEVE ASCHBURNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2006 - 12:21 AM

A game that meant zilch in the standings got downright competitive, lasting two overtimes (only one of which was compelling), before the playoff-bound Grizzlies put away a mixed bag of a Timberwolves lineup.

Farce. Mockery. Circus. Travesty.

Call the Timberwolves' 102-92 two-overtime loss to Memphis on Wednesday night all of the above and more, and you would not be incorrect. Or unduly harsh.

When offensively challenged, backup big man Mark Madsen is allowed to aim seven three-point shots at the rim, ostensibly, in the two extra sessions, it's pretty clear that the Wolves' season is over and their minds are on things other than winning. Such as draft picks, Ping Pong balls, a history of lousy lottery luck and, allegedly, some old-fashioned fun.

From that narrow perspective, then, mission accomplished.

As if this dreary 2005-06 season already wasn't long enough in regulation, the Wolves gave their fans an additional 10 minutes at Target Center to savor heading into this early summer -- and purists enough time to grab their hats and flee, based on the junkball that punctuated the night.

Forty-eight minutes wasn't enough for the Wolves to accomplish their most important objective.

That was to lose -- in hopes of improving their draft position -- in a game that neither team cared to win. Neither was 53 minutes, after a first overtime in which the clubs bricked 15 of a combined 19 shots to bump from 80-80 to 85-85.

No, in the finale of the Wolves' second consecutive season without a playoff payoff, 58 minutes was the magic number. As Madsen -- who had taken exactly zero three-pointers this season or last -- kept hoisting and missing from the arc, Memphis had little choice but to outscore its hosts 9-2 to start the second overtime and 17-7 overall in the period.

Backup Brian Cardinal hit three three-pointers for half of his team-high 18 points, and also nailed the best postgame quote.

"We were fortunate," the Grizzlies forward said dryly. "Mark Madsen wasn't 'on' tonight."

The night's other notable moment came shortly after the final horn, during the team's fan-appreciation maneuvers. It was a rare public appearance of star Kevin Garnett in street clothes.

The Wolves' franchise player hadn't been seen publicly on or near the Target Center court in nearly two weeks while allegedly resting his sore right knee but he did come out to acknowledge the fans' loyalty or, this season, endurance. Garnett had not played or spoken with reporters since the team's April 7 game against Utah.

"I have nothing to say," Garnett said as he headed to his vehicle beneath the stands, "but it's good to see y'all, though."

Playing without Garnett and Ricky Davis was just one of the tactics the Wolves used in recent games to gain minutes for their younger players and, just maybe, enhance their draft chances. That's what made this game such a must-lose. Winning would have brought a few hours of satisfaction from beating a team, Memphis, that was playing its bench and already was locked in as the West's fifth playoff seed. Losing guaranteed that they would have a first-round draft pick, potentially adding a player who might be on the roster for a decade.

With their 33-49 finish, the Wolves wound up tying with Boston for the NBA's sixth-worst record. An NBA coin flip in the coming days will break that tie when assigning chances for the May 23 lottery, but even in a worst-case scenario -- in which the Wolves lose that flip, then get leapfrogged by the maximum of three lucky lottery teams -- they can slide no lower than the No. 10 pick. They only had to send the pick to the Los Angeles. Clippers (as part of the Marko Jaric-Sam Cassell trade) if they wound up No. 11 or later.

Now they have more chances than they ever imagined of snaring the first, second or third pick.

So maybe that explained the Mad Dog disease that infected the Wolves late in this one.

"You know what got into me? He [coach Dwane Casey] drew up a play for me, and they started sagging off," Madsen explained. "So I thought, you know what? I'm going to be aggressive. Greg Foster, my teammate in L.A., told me once, 'If you don't let it go, you never know.' "

Now Madsen, the Wolves and the world know. He took 15 shots Wednesday night. He missed 14.

Casey spent more time on the bench than in any of the previous 81 games -- he normally is a sideline pacer -- and said the finish still featured young guys playing hard and having fun.

"I'm not laughing at the game," Casey said. "I'm very respectful for the game. It bothered me a little bit. But again, what we've been through during the season, I felt those guys deserved to have some fun. 'Dog' deserved to have some fun."

Fun, come next October, will be a summer of improvements in the Wolves' roster. And a Mad Dog who only shoots from the paint.

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