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Wolves make one late run -- to no avail

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves spent a week on
the brink of playoff elimination.

Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis ended the suspense.

Allen scored 34 points and Lewis added 28 to lead the Seattle
SuperSonics to a 109-94 victory Sunday, eliminating the Wolves from
the playoff race and giving Memphis the final Western Conference

"It's tough to put into words [to describe] a lot of what went
on this year," said Wally Szczerbiak, who scored 16 points. "We
tried to make a comeback down the stretch, but it just wasn't in
the cards."

Since last Sunday, a Memphis win or a Timberwolves loss would
have snapped Minnesota's streak of consecutive playoff appearances
at eight seasons.

The Timberwolves, the top seed in the West last season, beat
Golden State and Utah last week while Memphis lost to Denver, San
Antonio and Houston. On Sunday, the Wolves' luck ran out.

"Everybody's disappointed," coach Kevin McHale said. "You
can't come into the season with the expectation level we had and
then have the season we had."

The Timberwolves entered the season with sky-high expectations,
given that nearly everyone was back from the team that lost to the
Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals last year.

But they never could find the same magic, leading McHale to fire
college buddy Flip Saunders as coach in February in an effort to
turn things around. The move paid only a small dividend, as the
Timberwolves continued to play far below their potential.

"We were victims of our own success," Kevin Garnett said
before resisting the urge to make spot judgments after such a
disappointing loss. "I'm kind of frustrated right now, so I don't
like to answer from the heart at this point. It's been a hard

Garnett was just 5-of-14 from the field against the Sonics and
the Timberwolves made only 16 of 25 foul shots and were outscored
58-40 in the paint.

Latrell Sprewell led the Wolves with 20 points and Garnett
finished with 17.

Behind Lewis and Allen, the Sonics built a big lead, shooting 55
percent in the first three quarters to go up 87-70.

A prime example of the Timberwolves' puzzling and disappointing
season came with time winding down in the third quarter.

McHale wanted his team to take the last shot of the period, but
Sam Cassell put up a shot with over 8 seconds left. The shot missed
and Seattle raced back the other way, getting a 26-footer from
Allen to take an 87-70 lead into the final period.

McHale berated the team on the bench, hurling expletives and
then staring blankly at a team that looked uninspired despite the
desperate circumstances.

The pep talk didn't work.

Allen started the fourth with a dunk and another jumper for a
21-point lead as boos rained down from the Target Center crowd.

Minnesota did battle back, going on a 16-2 run to cut the
deficit to 93-88, but they couldn't come up with timely free throws
or stops on the defensive end down the stretch.

Lewis threw down a tomahawk dunk then hit a 3-pointer to push
the lead back to 105-94 with just over two minutes to play,
ensuring that neither team from last season's Western Conference
finals would be in the playoffs this year.

"I thought we did some good things today," said Nate McMillan,
one of the leading candidates for coach of the year. "We came out
and played our game. We worked hard physically, pushed the ball and
in transition we showed great ball movement."

The Sonics' success this season has been as surprising as the
Timberwolves' struggles.

With homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs
already clinched, the Sonics were merely tuning up while looking to
regain the form that led to a surprising Northwest Division title.

Seattle snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over New
Orleans on Friday, and McMillan said he wants to see his team
gather some momentum before the playoffs begin.

"We've been struggling the last couple of weeks, and after
beating New Orleans and now these guys, we're just trying to get
our rhythym back for the playoffs," said guard Luke Ridnour, who
had 10 points and 11 assists.

While Seattle is getting ready for the playoffs, the
Timberwolves were left to contemplate what's next.

McHale has said he is not suited for the coaching profession and
will look elsewhere for a permanent replacement to Saunders.

After the game Szczerbiak, who has been the subject of trade
rumors for most of his career, all but demanded to be a starter
next season and said he wouldn't mind being traded.

But Garnett said it was too soon to make judgments about the
long-term future of the franchise.

"It's not the time to be pointing fingers," Garnett said.
"Everybody from the [front office] to the players has to look at

Game notes
Sonics F Reggie Evans received a technical foul in the
first quarter for hanging on the rim. ... Sonics F Danny Fortson
got a technical for arguing with an official in the fourth quarter.
... Minnesota finishes out the season at New Orleans on Monday then
hosts San Antonio in the season finale on Wednesday. ... Seattle
heads to Dallas on Tuesday.