for this game

Jefferson, Timberwolves hold on for season-opening win

Oct 30, 2008 - 5:45 AM By James Beilby PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Al Jefferson opened the new season by collecting 21 points and 10 rebounds as the Minnesota Timberwolves held on for a 98-96 victory over the Sacramento Kings in the season opener for both teams Wednesday.

Rashad McCants scored 15 points and Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes added 12 each for Minnesota, which nearly saw a nine-point lead disappear in the closing moments.

"Yeah, we made it more interesting than we should have there at the end," Minnesota guard Mike Miller said. "We have been really working hard on defense. Tonight, we had a few lapses, but our goal was to make them make contested jumpshots. But we got the win, that's the most important thing."

Jefferson hit an 18-foot jumper and Kevin Ollie split two free throws to give the Timberwolves a 95-86 advantage with 3:40 to play. However, Sacramento came on late thanks to John Salmons, who finished with 24 points.

Salmons scored six points on a 10-2 run, including an 18-foot jumper that cut the Kings' deficit to 97-96 with 1:02 remaining. Yet, Mike Miller split two free throws with 25 seconds left and Salmons missed a putback at the buzzer, ending a late flurry by Sacramento, which had two looks in the closing moments.

Kevin Martin missed the initial shot of the possession, wrapping up a disappointing 5-of-19 effort from the field, including 3-of-11 on 3-pointers, en route to 17 points.

"If Kevin has any type of game at all, we win this game by 10," Sacramento coach Reggie Theus said. "But that's not what happened. I thought we outplayed them in the second half, but we didn't play well enough in the first to sustain the game."

The victory gave Minnesota a winning record for the first time in 125 games and the first time since Randy Wittman became head coach midway through the 2006-07 campaign. It was the 13th time in the last 14 years that the Timberwolves won their season opener.

"If we continue to win games here and get the fans excited, we're a dangerous team, because a young team can really feed off that," Miller said. "We appreciate the fans and tonight they were great."

Miller finished with 11 points in his debut with Minnesota following a draft-day trade with Memphis that also included rookie Kevin Love. The former UCLA star ended up a rebound shy of a double-double with 12 points and nine boards.

Love finished 5-of-8 from the field while pulling down four offensive rebounds and blocking two shots.

"I had more butterflies before the game, saying two sentences (to the crowd)," Love said. "Wishing everyone luck before the game, especially Sacramento more than anything, but once I got into a groove, once I got out there for the first time, it was good."

"He did a really good job of fighting for the the ball," Gomes said of the rookie forward-center. "If he continues to rebound the ball like that, especially on the offensive end, he's going to be really good."

Jefferson scored six of his 18 first-half points during in a 13-3 run at the end of the second quarter that resulted in the host's largest lead of the half at 52-43. Minnesota went into halftime with a 56-49 advantage.

Yet, Sacramento closed the third quarter with a 9-0 run, taking a 77-76 lead heading into the final period.

"I think we had the lead up to eight or nine four different times," Wittman said. "That's when you got to break the glass and make it 15 or 16 instead of letting them come back. When you've got a team down with four minutes to play, you got to make sure you step on their throat and finish the game."

McCants hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth and, after the Kings took back the lead, had a dunk and assisted on a slam by Love to help Minnesota take an 83-80 edge with 8:36 to play.

Love also completed a three-point play to make it 90-84 with 6:16 remaining.

Behind Jefferson and Love, the fifth overall pick in June's draft, Minnesota held a dominating advantage in points in the paint at 58-32.

Salmons finished 9-of-17 from the field with eight assists for Sacramento, which dropped its sixth straight season opener.

"We have a lot of talent," Salmons said. "We have a young team and are trying to put it all together. We've got some key guys out, but we're still there."

Rookie Jason Thompson had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Spencer Hawes added 12 and 14 for the Kings, who did win the battle on the boards by a 45-40 margin.