- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Kevin Garnett is easy to embrace as the prototypical basketball player of the new millennium.
He has impeccable perimeter skills for someone so tall, plus a certain ruggedness.
He can shoot over the top of the defense or he can plant his back to the basket and shoot in the jaws of the defense. He is not afraid to mix it up. He is a vacuum cleaner on the glass and versatile enough to defend all five positions.
There is really nothing not to like about Garnett, except for his manner in calling it a season.
Garnett, in his eighth season in the NBA, is still looking to lead the Timberwolves past the first round of the NBA playoffs.
There are no conclusive signs to indicate a breakthrough on their part, just lots of uneasiness.
The Timberwolves-Lakers series has the smell of seven games to it.
The Timberwolves, for the most part, have shown themselves to be the stronger team. They have controlled most of the flow in the series, and they would have been in a position to close out the series last night if not for their late meltdown in Game4.
This is the challenge before Garnett.
He can't allow himself to be an inconsequential factor in the waning minutes of a tight playoff game. He can't go to the free throw line with 15.7 seconds left and the Timberwolves down three points and miss both attempts. He can't be seen taking a couple of low-percentage shots in the fourth quarter because of the defensive presence of Mark Madsen.
Let's try to be real here.
Madsen is a glorified cheerleader whose presence on the floor merely underscores the lack of quality help around Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
If the Zen master is reduced to granting quality minutes to Madsen, the Lakers are begging to be vanquished.
Garnett has not built up his postseason portfolio sufficiently enough to withstand these kind of late-game failings. There is also this: Garnett fouled out in the opening moments of overtime in Game3, the most significant five minutes ever for the Timberwolves.
People inevitably note these circumstances and wonder if Garnett is cursed or if the history of the franchise has become a ball and chain to Garnett.
In six previous postseason appearances, Garnett and the Timberwolves have barely mounted any resistance. Their playoff record going into this postseason was a jaw-dropping 5-18.
Now they are up against the Lakers, the NBA champions the last three seasons who appear to be at the end of their mini-dynasty run.
There is something about this series that leads one to suspect that it will come down to the final minutes of Game7 and to which team elects to blink first.
That team, if it comes to that, will not be the Lakers. The Lakers are all too accustomed to the vagaries of nerves, starting in 2000, in Game7 of the conference finals against the Trail Blazers.
That game was all but concluded in favor of the Trail Blazers. It was their defining moment, and to this day, that franchise has not recovered from rolling over in the fourth quarter. It was, in a way, similar to what happened to the Kings against the Lakers in Game7 of the conference finals last season.
The Kings left the proceedings whining about the man on the grassy knoll and other conspiracies while failing to note their two obvious shooting flaws: 16 of 30 at the free throw line and two of 20 beyond the 3-point arc.
Slightly more proficiency in either area would have swung the overtime game to the Kings' side.
The Lakers have an advantage in knowing what happens to teams that allow doubt to join the exercise. Garnett and the Timberwolves were on the cusp of claiming this series in Game4, up 11 points late in the third quarter, when the assignment suddenly became too daunting to complete.
They still led by six points with 7:32 left, just as the basket started to close on them.
If the Lakers escape to the next round, Garnett and the Timberwolves will be consigned again to this perverse NBA version of "Groundhog Day," and this time, the burden will be all on Garnett, as his compelling talents demand.
Garnett is the lead player on the better of the two teams, and fair or not, any sign of wavering on his part is cause to be skeptical of his completeness because of the franchise's grim postseason history.

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