Thursday , Jan , 15 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Cassell playing like an All-Star

=== Cassell playing like an All-Star ===

By Chris Ruddick, Contributing NBA Writer

(Sports Network) – Even though Kevin Garnett gets all the headlines in
Minnesota, and rightfully so by the way, the man that has been the glue
behind the Timberwolves’ surge to the top of the Midwest Division standings
this season has been Sam Cassell.

Cassell, acquired in the offseason from the Milwaukee Bucks, has been as
consistent as anyone in the Wolves’ lineup this year and is second on the
team in scoring at 20.8 points-per-game and leads the club with 7.5 assists
a game.

Yet when the results were released in the most recent fan voting for the
NBA’s All-Star Game, Cassell, amazingly. was not among the top 10 Western
Conference guards. The 34-year-old journeyman, who has never played in an
All-Star Game, has been so good this season that head coach Flip Saunders
planned on sending out letters to coaches around the league explaining why
he thought Cassell should be an All-Star.

On Wednesday, Cassell’s skills were on full display, as he scored 33 points,
including 23 in the second half to help Minnesota grab sole possession of
first place in the Midwest Division with a 100-93 victory over San Antonio.

“Sam was on fire, it was like he was playing Xbox for a while,” Wolves
coach Flip Saunders said. “He was knocking down every shot, and you can see he
felt it.”

Cassell played like a man on a mission in the second half, connecting on
eight-of-12 shots. In fact during one stretch in the third quarter, Cassell
scored 11 of the Wolves’ 13 points, with nine of those points coming on
mid-range jumpers.

“Sam carried us,” Garnett said. “He had a few surges by himself that really
gave us the momentum back. In the huddle he was stressing be aggressive,
stay aggressive, and he did. He took some big shots.”

Latrell Sprewell added 24 and Garnett contributed 22 points and 10 boards
for the Timberwolves, who have won five straight and now lead the Spurs by
one game in the division.

“It’s too early for statement games,” said Saunders. “We still
have to face them a few more times. This was just a good game between two
teams playing very well right now. The Midwest Division is like that — so
tough.”

Minnesota was brutal in this one at the outset, though, and shot just
38-percent through the first 24 minutes and went into the locker room
trailing by four. However, Cassell took over in the second half and the
Wolves hit on 66-percent of its shots and rolled to the big seven-point
triumph.

“It definitely felt like a playoff game out there,” said Garnett. “I think
that’s why we had a horrible start because we were so jacked up. We kept
saying in every huddle to relax and calm down. But when you have five jacked
up people talking, it’s not really sinking in.”

With the Timberwolves’ “Big 3” of Garnett, Sprewell and Cassell combining
for close to 64 points a game, this could be the year that Garnett gets that
dreaded first-round playoff monkey off his back.

Minnesota, which is 14-6 away from home this season, concludes its
three-game road trip in Houston on Saturday, but then will play three of
their next four in the friendly confines of the Target Center.

MIN