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Wolves take first playoff game against Denver
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Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett takes a shot during the team's first-round playoff game against the Denver Nuggets Sunday night. The Wolves won 106-92. Garnett scored 30 points and had 20 rebounds. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
The Minnesota Timberwolves took the first step towards shedding the first-round playoff jinx by beating the Denver Nuggets 106-92 at the Target Center Sunday night. The team has a streak of seven straight losses in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. This year, fans are hoping that not only will the Wolves take the best-of-seven-game series, but they'll make it all the way to the finals for the first time in team history.

Minneapolis, Minn. — For the last seven seasons, Timberwolves fans have endured the disappointment of watching their team defeated in the first round of the playoffs. But Timberwolves fan Rich McMaken from Ham Lake says this year will be different.

"I think they got more depth this year. I think they can (go all the way)," McMaken says. "If they can keep it up. The problem, if both Sprewell and Cassell get cold -- we're dead."

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Image Two stars of the show

But forward Latrell Sprewell and guard Sam Cassell didn't let the team down. Cassell scored 40 points in 42 minutes, while Sprewell had 11 points.

Fans and sports writers hailed the pre-season hiring of Sprewell and Cassell. The two veteran players have playoff experience and are expected to help All-Star forward Kevin Garnett take the team to the next level. Garnett, who's already being called this year's NBA most valuable player, had an MVP-like performance with 30 points and 20 rebounds.

The Denver Nuggets started quickly in the first quarter, but the Timberwolves overcame them with aggressive rebounding and tough defensive play. However, despite building big leads of 14 points in the first half and 22 points in the second, Denver fought back and managed to keep the game close.

Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders says the team showed its strength by not folding under the pressure.

"We really didn't lose our composure. I think our guys -- it's not like we were really in a panic situation, even when they were on the bench," Saunders says. "To have a big lead ... we showed things we do to be successful. But when we veered away from that -- that's when they made a couple runs at us."

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Image Target Center crowd

One of the reasons Denver kept coming back was Garnett's five fouls. Saunders kept his star player on the bench for longer than usual to keep him from getting another that would cause him to foul out of the game.

Garnett says he didn't get worried about the Nuggets' scoring runs that came when he was sitting on the bench. The guys had some first-game jitters, says Garnett.

"You can't get around that come first game. It's good we got the first game out of the way," Garnett says. "Now we got film, we've got things we can watch, and now we can sort of critique some of things we didn't do. But, worried? No."

Garnett gave credit to teammate Sam Cassell, who has often been the team's main scorer in the fourth quarter this season. Cassell's 40 points tied a career best. However, he only had three assists. Cassell was asked if he worried that by taking so many shots he was neglecting his teammates.

"We just play ball, man. I'll let y'all worry about that," says Cassell. "If I've got it going, I shoot the ball."

The Timberwolves play the Nuggets again on Wednesday night at the Target Center.

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