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T-Wolves, Kings try to settle down

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2004

MINNEAPOLIS Bodies are aching, tempers are flaring and elbows are flying. At least the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves have two days to settle down, forget the fighting and focus on Wednesday's Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals.

Kevin Garnett, apparently, is already there.

''I'm so relaxed,'' the league MVP said Monday. ''I'm right where I want to be mentally.''

Sacramento, it seems, feels the same way.

''We've been there, and we know what to do,'' center Vlade Divac said after the Kings' 104-87 victory on Sunday. ''Guys are focused ... I still believe if we play our game, we're OK.''

Looming beyond this round is the conference finals and a matchup with the suddenly surging Los Angeles Lakers. That subject, however, is taboo at the moment.

First things first.

''We're getting deeper in the series, and no one wants to go home,'' Minnesota's Latrell Sprewell said. ''That's what it boils down to. It's do or die. I think that's why you're seeing some of the hard fouls. We all want the same thing.''

The past two games were full of intense moments:

Anthony Peeler hitting Garnett, an old friend and former teammate, in the face with an elbow in the culmination of a tiff that each said the other started. Garnett picked up a technical foul. Peeler was ejected, and the league suspended him for two games.

Sam Cassell, the Timberwolves' All-Star point guard, arguing foul calls and hobbling around with a bad back.

Kings center Brad Miller getting ejected from Game 5 and fined for an obscene gesture toward the Minnesota fans before returning in Game 6 to pester Garnett.

This sideshow stuff is nothing new for the Wolves, who beat Denver in a first-round series remembered best for bad feelings, name calling and threats of fighting on the court.

The Sacramento series started tamely enough. Cassell, in commenting before Game 1 about how much these teams enjoy playing each other, even predicted that there wouldn't be any ''trash talking.''

But by Game 5, the intensity was building to a crescendo and that old saying about familiarity breeding contempt was proving to be oh so true.

''It's like going on vacation with your family for two weeks,'' Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. ''By the end of those two weeks, you're ready to strangle everybody.''

Both Sacramento and Minnesota have enough veterans to realize that the game, and the chance to continue toward an NBA title, is far more important than revenge for a recent cheap shot perceived or otherwise.

''I don't think we're going to have a problem focusing at all,'' Minnesota's Mark Madsen said. ''Anything else that's going on in the series, we completely put it aside.''

That doesn't mean, of course, that Wednesday's game will be played without plenty of physical contact.

''I told the guys to be smart,'' Kings coach Rick Adelman said, ''because the officials will probably be told to clean it up.''

Said Sacramento's Mike Bibby: ''We can't let our emotions come into play as much.''

Cassell didn't speak to the media Monday, but Saunders said the 34-year-old's back was feeling a little better. After scoring 40 points in Game 1, the series has been a struggle for Cassell.

He's still an extremely important part of Minnesota's offense, and his postseason experience and clutch shooting are invaluable.

''Sam has been here before,'' Garnett said. ''We'll be ready come game time, best believe that.''



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