Timberwolves snap eight-game losing streak, beat 76ers

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's been three long weeks since the Minnesota Timberwolves last won a basketball game.

"It seems like 1,000 years," forward Craig Smith said.

Not anymore, thanks to Smith's superb effort off the bench and Al Jefferson's refusal to let his Timberwolves collapse in the fourth quarter again.

Jefferson scored six of his 25 points in the final 3½ minutes to lift Minnesota to a 102-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, snapping an eight-game losing streak.

"I just had to take over," Jefferson said. "They just feed off me. I don't feel like I have to take every shot in crunch time, but the ball should go through me."

Elton Brand had 19 points and 13 rebounds for Philadelphia, which committed 16 turnovers and missed eight free throws while losing for the first time in four games.

"They were desperate," 76ers sixth man Willie Green said. "They had a sense of urgency all game long. They wanted it more than us. It was obvious."

Six of Minnesota's defeats came by six points or fewer and with the Timberwolves ahead at some point in the fourth quarter. It looked to be going that way again against Philadelphia when Andre Iguodala's three-point play cut an 11-point lead to 92-91.

But Jefferson bulled his way to the basket on three straight occasions when the Wolves absolutely needed a bucket, helping the team avoid a losing streak that would have been longer than any in last year's miserable 22-60 season.

Smith scored a season-high 21 points and matched a career best with five assists and Mike Miller had 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the Wolves, who won for the first time since the season opener against Sacramento.

Andre Miller's 22-foot jumper cut it to 95-94, but Mike Miller's long 3-pointer at the other end put the game away with 30 seconds to go.

"I told the team that the ice is off the lake," coach Randy Wittman said. "It's not going to freeze anymore. We broke the ice tonight and that's got to help them."

So many times during their eight-game skid the Wolves built a formidable lead out of halftime, only to let their opponent chip away at it to a manageable deficit going into the fourth.

Once there, the Wolves would fall apart down the stretch. In the last five minutes of their previous nine games, they shot less than 32 percent from the field and were outscored 133-93.

This time, Minnesota gave itself some more breathing room heading into that pesky final period.

The burly Smith harkened back to his days on the California blacktop when he crossed over Reggie Evans at the top of the key and got to the basket to draw a foul. His free throw capped a 9-2 run that helped Minnesota take a 76-65 lead into the fourth.

It still ended up being a nail-biter, but Jefferson's twisting layup with 2:33 to go set the tone for a team that had yet to close out a close game this season. He pounded his chest as he headed back up the court, sending a message that this time was going to be different.

"When you have a player scoring the way Al Jefferson was scoring, it puts a lot of pressure on you," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "Get ready to go double. Who are you going to go double? Who are you going to rotate to?

"Give Al Jefferson credit. He got the ball to Mike Miller at the right time and he made the shot," he added.

Game notes
Timberwolves guard Rashad McCants left with 9:13 to play in the second quarter after having back spasms and did not return. ... Andre Miller finished with 20 points and six assists. ... Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway sat in courtside seats provided by his good buddy and fellow South Dakotan Mike Miller. Greenway is from tiny Mount Vernon while Miller is from Mitchell, about 25 minutes down the road. ... Two of the three former Sixers on the Wolves -- Kevin Ollie and Calvin Booth -- were inactive and the third -- Rodney Carney -- did not play.