A week ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves were playing well and looking forward to the toughest part of their schedule as a chance to establish themselves as a contender in the Western Conference.
Then came last Thursday's demoralizing Stephon Marbury trade, and now the Wolves are just trying to survive long enough to find out what kind of team they will be with Terrell Brandon in Marbury's place.
It was the fifth straight win and ninth in 11 games for the Jazz, and their second in three days over the new-look Wolves. But this one was a lot tougher than Saturday's 99-72 victory in Utah, when the Wolves scored their fewest points of the season and suffered their worst loss in Brandon's first game.
"Obviously, we caught Minnesota at a good time," John Stockton said. "They haven't had a lot of time to work together."
Two games and one shootaround, to be precise. And coach Flip Saunders doesn't think the Wolves will get their first full practice with Brandon until sometime next week.
Brandon, playing his first home game since being acquired from Milwaukee last Thursday in the three-team, nine-player deal that sent Marbury to New Jersey, had a season-high 21 points and six assists.
He had 17 points in the first half to spark Minnesota's comeback.
"Stephon was great for this fanchise, but I'm here now," said Brandon, who also took over Marbury's dressing stall in the Wolves locker room. "Whatever happened in the past, I don't know anything about. We have to continue to go on -- the new Minnesota Timberwolves."
Joe Smith had 26 points and a season-high 17 rebounds for the Wolves, who have lost three of four since the Marbury trade. Kevin Garnett had a season-low 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting before fouling out with 3:51 left.
Smith scored eight straight points for the Wolves to tie the game at 61-all with 4:23 left in the third quarter, capping a 33-14 run over an 11-minute span. But the Jazz responded immediately with seven straight points to regain the lead for good.
Malone had three points in that spurt, which started a 17-7 push that gave Utah a 78-68 lead with 7:04 left.
"I don't think we have the killer instinct," Jeff Hornacek said. "We're up by 19 and Minnesota came back and tied us. We started the fourth quarter and we got back into properly executing our plays. We need to put teams away earlier in the game."
"That's really been a strength of ours," said Stockton, who had eight points and two assists. "We have a lot of veteran players, and the guys that come off the bench don't get the headlines but they hustle all the time and put points up."
The Jazz were 6-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half, tying a team record for 3-pointers made in the first two quarters. They hit four of those in a 13-3 run that gave them a 32-16 lead early in the second quarter.
Shandon Anderson scored 10 points in the second to help Utah open a 47-28 lead, matching its biggest of the game. But Brandon got his first assist on a jumper by Smith as the Wolves started their comeback.
It was 52-42 at halftime after Brandon fed Smith for a fast-break dunk at the buzzer, and the rally continued at the start of the third quarter when Brandon lofted an alley-oop pass to Garnett for a dunk and then hit a jumper to make it 52-46.
Minnesota ran out of gas down the stretch. But the Wolves, who play host to the Lakers on Tuesday night, hope their comeback was an indication they have started to move on without Marbury.
"That's a great sign," Smith said. "A team like Utah, when they get a lead like that they usually pt their opponents away. For us to get back into it, tie it up and have an opportunity to win, I think that shows that we are a good team and we can compete with those guys."
Utah has won 15 of its last 18 games against Minnesota, including seven of the last nine at Target Center. ... The Wolves are in a rugged stretch of seven games in nine days. They are 1-3 heading into Tuesday's home game against the Lakers. ... The Wolves lost starting shooting guard Anthony Peeler midway through the first quarter with an injury to his left calf. He didn't return. ... Jazz forward Thurl Bailey, a former member of the Wolves, played in his 900th career game.
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