DENVER - Mark Madsen, they're ready for your close-up.
The Timberwolves, with their sixth consecutive loss, falling 122-107 to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night at Pepsi Center, eerily find themselves right where they were one year ago: facing the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday in the season finale at Target Center, still driven to solidify their status among the NBA's worst teams to preserve their first-round draft pick in June.
Last year, as part of his team's suspected backpedaling strategy that required two overtime periods against the Grizzlies before it lost 102-92, Madsen jacked up seven three-point shots -- his only three-point attempts all season -- and missed them all in a Bizarro game that got serious media ridicule. As much as the fans enjoyed it, Madsen was the one who had to endure the smirking and criticism.
"If anything, I got a little caught up in it," Madsen said Monday night. "Every time I touched the ball, the crowd would scream for me to shoot. I've worked on my shooting. I've had shooting coaches. I was feeding off the crowd.
"But at least I was in the arena, working. You had teams in and out of the playoffs sitting down their players, I'm out there busting my tail."
At 32-49, the Wolves would need to beat Memphis to match last season's 33-49 mark. Losing would push them to 50 defeats in a season for the first time since Kevin Garnett was a rookie. But losing also would keep them among the league's worst, improving their shot at saving the first-round pick.
If the Wolves were to slip to No. 11 or later in the first round, after the May 22 draft lottery, they would have to send that pick to the L.A. Clippers to complete the 2005 Marko Jaric-Sam Cassell trade. Since no more than three teams can move up in the lottery, the goal (after any coin flips to break ties by record) is to sit at No. 7 or higher.
The Wolves, New York and Portland all lost Monday, staying tied for the sixth-worst record.
Nuggets 122, Wolves 107
The Nuggets used this one as a tuneup for their first-round playoff series with San Antonio, which earned some flattering associations for a couple of Wolves.
"We might be talking about [Craig] Smith, but we'll be talking about [Tim] Duncan," Denver coach George Karl said before tipoff. "We might be talking about [Ricky] Davis, but we're really talking about [Manu] Ginobili."
For all the play-acting, the Nuggets used the real Allen Iverson (25 points) and Carmelo Anthony (21) to pull away in the third quarter of what had been a close game. The Wolves -- the opponent in Denver's home opener and home finale this season -- had only eight available players, several of whom apparently hadn't gotten the memo about lottery position.
Halfway through, they trailed just 60-59, and they were within 76-73 deep into the third quarter. Then, in the thin air, on the end of a back-to-back, they got outscored 25-6 in seven minutes across the quarter break.
Coach Randy Wittman started Randy Foye at point guard, seeking to carry over some of the rookie's aggression from the fourth quarter against Golden State on Sunday. Foye scored 19 points with nine rebounds, five assists and seven turnovers.
McCants' knee bruised
Guard Rashad McCants said his sore right knee was diagnosed as a "bone bruise," meaning he didn't suffer any structural damage when he and Golden State's Jason Richardson banged knees Sunday. McCants had microfracture surgery on that knee last June and missed this season's first 44 games.
He said he hoped to play against Memphis. So did Madsen, who sat out because of a sore left hamstring. Garnett (sore right quadriceps) and guards Troy Hudson (sore left knee) missed their fourth and fifth consecutive games, respectively. Of Garnett, said to be getting treatment in Southern California, Wittman admitted: "I anticipate he's probably done [this season]."
Swingman Marko Jaric likely is done, too. Jaric missed his third game in a row because of what he learned was a chipped bone in his swollen left index finger.