The Minnesota Timberwolves embarked on a four-game road trip unsure of the results that awaited them.
Successful through the first three games, including Monday night's 91-77 victory over the Utah Jazz, the Wolves are getting an idea.
The early indications are that Wally Szczerbiak can be the shooter they need, that Eddie Griffin might be fulfilling lofty expectations that have surrounded him for years, and that this team might be learning something about itself. Perhaps more than anything on this road trip so far, the Wolves have figured out that they need each other. With every player complementing Kevin Garnett, not relying on him.
"It's going to take more than K.G. to win," said Griffin, who blocked eight shots, snagged 11 rebounds and scored 14 points Monday night. "The games we were losing, we kept trying to force feed him at the end of the game. Now, at the end of the game, Troy (Hudson) and Wally are stepping up and hitting shots. K.G., he's going to get his buckets anyway, but now he's getting help."
Griffin did his part, to say the least. His defense provided the intimidating presence, the in-your-face play that the Wolves desperately need from someone other than Garnett.
The Jazz outscored Minnesota 48-24 in the lane, but it would have been even more lopsided without Griffin.
"We needed that 9-1-1 call," coach Dwane Casey said. "(The Jazz) are a tough team to guard. You need to have one guy like Eddie to be in the paint to protect the basket, and he did a good job."
The confidence of Szczerbiak and Hudson and others has surged as well.
Szczerbiak scored 26 points against the Jazz, the same number he has averaged through the first three games of the road trip.
Minnesota (10-6) leads the NBA's Northwest Division and now has a four-game winning streak on the road.
"We definitely are learning and gaining confidence," Wolves guard Marko Jaric said. "We're a very good team, a very talented team. Everybody is giving a good effort - the starting lineup, the guys from the bench."
By the time Garnett re-entered the game with 9:41 remaining, Minnesota's lead had dwindled from 65-55 late in the third quarter to 70-67 after two free throws by Andrei Kirilenko.
Then Griffin had a tip-in on an offensive rebound. Szczerbiak hit a three-pointer. Griffin blocked two shots on the same possession.
Those types of plays helped Minnesota stave off Utah until the Wolves could put the game away. With about four minutes left, the Wolves were up only 79-74.
With more teamwork, it didn't take long to secure the win.
Spurs stomp Magic
A hypnotist rounded up volunteers at TD Waterhouse center for a halftime show Monday night. No truth to the rumor that he tried to trick Orlando Magic fans into thinking the NBA champions were the guys wearing white.
The NBA champion San Antonio Spurs were indeed in The 'House, dressed in black, and they distinguished themselves when they felt the urge.
As is their nature, the Spurs methodically pulled away in the second half, dispatching the Magic 110-85 with all the flair of an audit.
Business people coming to Orlando have more emotional sales meetings than the Spurs.
While the Magic were excited about playing to a 46-46 halftime draw, the Spurs called on their assorted assets - namely the highly decorated Tim Duncan - to erase any notions of an upset in a dominating third quarter.
San Antonio outscored Orlando 31-15 in the period to lead 77-61, splaying the Magic's defense with a clinical dissection.
This is how the champions do it:
One moment you're feeling good and in the game, and the next you see patrons heading for the exits.
This is how champions do it: Throwing the switch in the second half, the Spurs finished at 55 percent shooting (after 35 percent in the first). They grabbed seven offensive rebounds (after logging zero in the first) and scored 14 second-chance points in the final two periods (after recording zero in the first).
And this is how a champion does it: Duncan scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half, including the Spurs' first eight points after intermission. Four of his five blocks came in a harsh schooling of young Dwight Howard.
Losers of four consecutive games - the last three by at least 20 points - the Magic (7-10) wobbled off the floor wondering when they might get their next victory.
Winners of four consecutive games, the Spurs (14-3) strolled off wondering how they could get to the playoffs without falling asleep.
"The Spurs turned it up a notch in the second half and you expect that. . . . They play with tremendous confidence," Magic Coach Brian Hill said.
In other NBA action: Dallas 102, Chicago 94; LA Clippers 99, Miami 89.