MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Time and again, Al Jefferson took the ball on the low block, made one quick move, and scored.
Down 14 at halftime, that's what his Timberwolves -- and make no mistake, these are Jefferson's Timberwolves now -- needed. And "Big Al" delivered with 22 of his 29 points in the second half of a 98-94 victory over lowly Memphis on Tuesday night.
If the Grizzlies were playing any defense in the second half, Jefferson certainly didn't see it.
"Tonight was one of them nights where I just didn't see no defense," Jefferson said. "I was in that type of zone. Nobody could get in front of me."
After hitting just one of his first 11 shots, Ryan Gomes made two free throws and then a jumper with 52.8 seconds left to help seal it and hand the Grizzlies their 18th straight road loss.
Mike Miller had 20 points and 10 rebounds and Rudy Gay scored 25 for the Grizzlies (16-51), who moved into a tie with Seattle for the second-worst record in the NBA. Memphis has not won on the road since Jan. 2.
"They are all disappointing," Memphis coach Mark Iavaroni said. "I don't count streaks. I am not thinking about that. I am thinking about winning a game."
This had to be one of the toughest losses yet in a miserable season. The Grizzlies led 52-38 at halftime before Jefferson took over in the low post, having his way with Jason Collins, Hakim Warrick and, briefly, Kwame Brown.
His spinning layup with 5:20 to go gave the Wolves their first lead at 79-78, and he added a three-point play down the stretch and also had 13 rebounds.
Rashad McCants had 19 points off the bench and Gomes finished with 14 for the Timberwolves (17-50), who have won five of their last seven games to move ahead of the Sonics and Grizzlies in the standings.
They have been accused of dumping games at the end of the last two seasons to hold onto their lottery picks, including at the end of 2006 when center Mark Madsen went 0-for-7 from 3-point range in a double-overtime loss to these Grizzlies that ensured they kept their first-round draft pick.
Minnesota also was questioned when Kevin Garnett was shut down for the final five games of last season, but owner Glen Taylor said Tuesday that, "it was more like KG tanked it."
Those comments drew puzzled looks and considerable criticism across the league, but he also deserves credit for saying he is pushing this young team to win at the end of this season rather than think about the lottery.
"I've definitely seen some growth," said Randy Foye, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. "We're coming together."
Jefferson scored 12 points during a 17-5 run in the third quarter, including a whirling double spin move that left Darko Milicic swatting at air and negated a rough start.
The Grizzlies scored 28 points in the first quarter and led by 16 points after Juan Carlos Navarro hit one of his trademark "La Bomba" shots -- a high-arching teardrop in the lane during that gave them a 48-32 lead.
"We came out almost like we were happy with the lead that we had," Memphis point guard Mike Conley said. "I thought we shouldn't have come out with that kind of attitude. We should have came out with the attitude that it was 0-0. We didn't come out aggressive enough."
It was all downhill after halftime for the Grizzlies, who now are facing their own questions about tanking.
Their trade of Pau Gasol to the Lakers drew considerable ire from fans and other Western Conference teams, notably Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, and prompted some to speculate that they were giving up on this season in hopes of getting a high draft pick to continue their rebuilding process.
They have lost 20 of their last 23 games and are 3-18 since trading Gasol.
"I think it was just tough, especially a game we thought we had under control in the first half," Gay said. "We have to learn how to contain leads and how to play it safe."
Wolves coach Randy Wittman declined to comment directly on Taylor's quote. "I haven't coached a guy that played harder or practiced harder. ... We would be a lot better off in this league if we had more people like that, trust me," Wittman said of Garnett. ... Jefferson broke the Felton Spencer's single-season franchise record for offensive rebounds (273), set in 1990-91. ... Memphis PGs Kyle Lowry, Conley and Javaris Crittenton combined for just 1 assist in 60 total minutes.
- Dick Bavetta
- Jason Phillips
- Leon Wood