Battle Expected From T-Wolves

Wizards Say Minnesota's Record Doesn't Tell Whole Story

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007; Page E03

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a bad basketball team by nearly every reasonable measure.

They enter tonight's game against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center with a league-worst 3-15 record, rank 29th in point differential and lost their identity when Kevin McHale, the team's vice president of basketball operations, traded franchise cornerstone Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics over the summer.

"They have a lot of young, talented guys. . . . We have to play well," Antonio Daniels said of the Timberwolves. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

Still, the Wizards (10-10) swear that they will not take the Timberwolves lightly as they finish a season-long five-game homestand.

Several Wizards pointed to Minnesota's 100-93 home win over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. The victory came just one night after Steve Nash and the Suns put on an offensive clinic during a 122-107 win over the Wizards at Verizon Center.

"I don't care what their record is," explained Wizards guard Antonio Daniels, who finished with 10 points, 5 assists and 4 steals in Sunday's 104-89 home win over New Jersey. "They played us tough up there in Minnesota and they just beat the hottest team in the league in Phoenix, so they're obviously dangerous. I watched that game. They have a lot of young, talented guys who are trying to prove themselves in this league and I expect them to come out with energy against us. We have to play well."

Minnesota put up a fight when the Wizards visited Minneapolis on Nov. 16, but after trailing by three entering the fourth quarter, the Wizards blew open the game by scoring 34 points, resulting in a 105-89 victory.

That also was the last time the Wizards had three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas, who complained of left knee pain after scoring 27 points in the win and underwent surgery five days later.

The Wizards already are short-handed without Arenas, Etan Thomas (open-heart surgery) and rookie Oleksiy Pecherov, who remains out with a hairline fracture in his right ankle, and they could be without veteran forward Darius Songaila tonight.

Songaila, who snapped out of a recent slump by posting 11 points and six rebounds against the Nets on Sunday night, rolled his left ankle late in the game and did not practice yesterday. He will be a game-time decision.

If Songaila can't play, the Wizards will lean heavily on big men Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche as they attempt to contain Minnesota forward-center Al Jefferson, who manhandled the Suns by posting 32 points and 20 rebounds Saturday night. Jefferson was acquired in the Garnett trade and is the closest thing the Timberwolves have to a star player.

The 6-foot-10, 265-pounder is in only his fourth NBA season after entering the 2004 draft out of high school and is averaging 20.1 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 49 percent.

"Defensively, the key for us is going to be to defend Jefferson," Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. "He's really tough down there in the paint, and then we have to keep some of their other young guys from getting off on a roll. It's a young team but if we don't come out and play, they have enough to get it done. They showed that against Phoenix."

Wizards Note: Following Arenas's surgery on Nov. 21, the team established a three-month timetable for his possible return to basketball-related activity. Arenas said that so far, the team's athletic training staff and doctors have told him that he's "ahead of schedule." He recently was cleared to ride a stationary bike but still is walking with the assistance of crutches.

Arenas, who admitted that he rushed himself back too quickly while recovering from surgery he underwent last April, said he has no firm timetable in mind for a return from his latest surgery. The recent surgery repaired a partial tear in his left meniscus and also used a microfracture procedure to repair a non-weight-bearing bone in his left leg.

"I'm coming back when I feel right," Arenas said, throwing out a few random dates to illustrate his cautious approach. "Whether it's February 14, March 1 or October 31."

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