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Nets Hold Back Wolves

Minnesota fans haven't forgiven Stephon Marbury for leaving and they won't soon forget his return.

"It doesn't get any better than this," Marbury said Sunday after scoring 39 points in New Jersey's 91-89 victory over the Timberwolves.

Fans were merciless as Marbury returned to Target Center for the first time since he forced the Timberwolves to trade him to the Nets last March.

Marbury, who left in part to escape Minnesota's wicked winters, gave the packed house plenty to boo about, coming within three points of his career high and dazzling the crowd of 19,449 boo-birds with his moves.

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  • "Yes," he said, this was a very good 23rd birthday present. "The best."

    Marbury played with a motivation that the Wolves were unable to match.

    "He was great for them. He played how we've seem him play many times in this arena," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. "Especially when the game was close, he made a couple of big buckets."

    But Marbury missed a crucial 3 from the top of the circle with 8.9 seconds left, giving Minnesota one last chance to send Marbury home a loser.

    Kevin Garnett missed a rushed off-balance runner, however, Malik Sealy missed the tip, Kerry Kittles rebounded and no whistle was called before the buzzer to the dismay of the sellout crowd.

    "I tried to foul," Garnett said. "Ask Kittles."

    Garnett scored 27 points, but missed 24 of 33 shots.

    "I think I came out too hyped," said Garnett, who gave Marbury a bear hug before tipoff.

    While one fan held a sign wishing Marbury a happy birthday, another placard at midcourt more accurately reflected the crowd's frame of mind.

    It read, "$teph Me-Baby."

    Although the lethargic Wolves probably were more deserving of the crowd's catcalls, Marbury got the "bo-him-every-time-he-touches-the-ball" treatment during the game televised by NBC, which one fan said stood for "New Jersey's Biggest Crybaby."

    "That didn't bother me at all," said Marbury, who had fun with the ribbing, constantly flashing the smile that made him a fan favorite for 2 1/2 seasons.

    "I think it meant everything to him," teammate Kendall Gill said of Marbury's return. "He basically took it on himself in the second half. I didn't expect him to score 39, but I expected him to play well."

    Marbury, who scored 25 points in the second half, forced the trade last March, saying it was too cold and too boring for him in Minnesota and that he wanted to return home to the East Coast, where he ruled the asphalt courts in Coney Island as a teen-ager.

    But he left a lot of bad blood in Minnesota.

    General manager Kevin McHale and Saunders said Marbury told them he wanted out because he was jealous of Garnett's $126 million contract.

    Saunders also said Tom Gugliotta might not have left for Phoenix before last year's strike-shortened season had he known Marbury was going to be leaving Minneapolis so soon.

    Marbury not only wanted some home cooking but also figured he'd get much more exposure, endorsements and esteem with the Nets, all of which he's still waiting for he was snubbed from the All-Star Game this month, he's not pitching many products and the Nets aren't in playoff contention.

    "Miss KG?" asked one sign.

    On this day, not so much.

    Marbury's inspired play had both Terrell Brandon and Bobby Jackson in foul trouble, and at one point Anthony Peeler ran the Wolves' offense.

    Brandon fouled out with 4:22 left, and Marbury made one of two shots for an 88-80 lead. But Garnett's only hot streak, a jumper, two foul shots and a 3-pointer, pulled the Wolves to 88-87 with 2:44 left.

    "There was so much buildup on the game and then I don't even get an opportunity to play," said Brandon, who was limited to 24 minutes.


  • The Wolves sorely missed Brandon's presence as their last two possessions ended in a shot clock violation and a frenetic finish.
  • Saunders said forward Sam Mitchell (sprained ankle) will probably be out a week. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Wally Szczerbiak.
  • Marbury scored a career-high 42 points in Vancouver on Jan. 27.

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