NBA ROUNDUP \ News and notes

Timberwolves hit slump: On a tense night inside the Minnesota Timberwolves' locker room following another uninspired effort, Kevin Garnett was asked to try to put his finger on what's troubling his team. "Every team goes through it and we're no exception to that. At this point we're just trying to figure it out," he said. The Wolves had just lost for the fifth time in eight games, leaving them with the sixth-best record in the Western Conference. Better things were expected after Minnesota made it to the conference finals last season, but the chemistry seems to be lacking. "We have a mindset that we're a good team, but everybody tries to go out and do it themselves instead of consolidating," Garnett said. "We have to all understand it's a team game, and when we all try to do it ourselves individually, we're not successful." The Wolves have had a cloud hanging over them since early in the season when Latrell Sprewell, displeased with the terms of a contract extension, said he might not exert championship-caliber effort. Wally Szczerbiak's name has continued to crop up in trade rumors, prompting him to meet with general manager Kevin McHale to get a reading on whether he'll be staying or going. "We have an open-door policy, which is good," Szczerbiak said. Sam Cassell has already given his annual diatribe about being underpaid, and backup point guard Troy Hudson has lost his job to journeyman Anthony Carter just a few months after agreeing to a six-year contract. "We've got to get everybody on the same page of what we're trying to accomplish. It's that simple," Cassell said. Since defeating Sacramento on Dec. 10 for their seventh victory in eight games, the Wolves have lost to the Bulls, Raptors, Cavaliers, Spurs and Knicks. Their motivational malaise is similar to what's happening to Larry Brown's Detroit Pistons, another veteran-laden club whose players know that what happens in December will be long forgotten by the postseason. "It doesn't matter right now. The season doesn't end until April," Cassell said. "I won a championship as a sixth seed, so it doesn't matter. To win a championship you've got to win on the road sometime, so it doesn't matter right now. We just need to win as many games as possible, get sharper, and when the playoffs come we'll be there."
Robotic Bobcat: Charlotte rookie Emeka Okafor entered the weekend with a streak of 17 consecutive games reaching double figures in points and rebounds. That's longer than rookie runs by Shaquille O'Neal (15 games) and Tim Duncan (10 games). Okafor is still a long way from matching the streak of 60 consecutive double-doubles by Elvin Hayes of the San Diego Rockets in his rookie season, 1968-69. "If I were to break that, that's when it would start to mean something," said Okafor, who said he was unimpressed with the historical significance of what he's done. Okafor, averaging 15.3 points and 11.3 rebounds for the expansion Bobcats, was a member of the U.S. Olympic team that won a bronze medal in Athens, though he rarely played and didn't score a point. Teammate Carmelo Anthony dubbed Okafor "I Robot" after his first glimpse of Okafor's mechanical style; it's fair to say that Okafor wasn't exactly enamored with the nickname. Okafor laughed when it was suggested that his Olympic teammate, Dwyane Wade, should be nicknamed "Pocket Mutombo" for his resemblance to the shot-blocking center.
Odds and ends: Shaquille O'Neal believes Wade is further along in his sophomore season than Kobe Bryant was in 1997 or Penny Hardaway was in 1995: "He's the best second-year pupil that I've had. I've raised two great ones in my NBA lifetime, and this guy is the best in his second year," O'Neal said. ... Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders was among those scratching his head at the Houston Rockets' decision to trade Jim Jackson to New Orleans, along with Bostjan Nachbar, for David Wesley. "I'm still trying to figure that one out," Saunders said, wondering whether the Wesley deal was a precursor to something else. "Sometimes you don't understand the first trade, but maybe there's another one down the road." ... Keep an eye on Sacramento swingman Maurice Evans, who will fill Bobby Jackson's role as the first guard off the bench while Jackson is sidelined by a wrist injury. Evans scored 12 points and had eight rebounds, including seven offensive, in 25 minutes of a 109-107 loss to the Miami Heat last week. "That's not a flash, ladies and gentleman, that's what he does every single day in practice," teammate Chris Webber said. "He's going to be a monster one day if he keeps playing like that." ... In an effort to generate enthusiasm for the NBA's newest team, Bobcats owner Bob Johnson came up with the idea of "Conversion Night." Fans got free tickets by trading in old Charlotte Hornets items, which were donated to Goodwill Industries for overseas distribution.
Associated Press

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