MINNEAPOLIS - Imagine a cemetery at dawn. Or the South Pole in the dead of winter, minus the penguins.
That was the sort of deathly quiet atmosphere here Wednesday night at the Target Center, where Minnesota fans appeared to watch the respirator plug pulled on a recent title-contending team.
Of course, as far as the Suns were concerned, the ambience was more like Times Square on New Year's Eve, as they embarrassed the Timberwolves — a team that used to kill them — 108-79.
Before the game, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni had called this game "Waterloo" for the free-falling T-Wolves, a "must win" game for a team viewed last fall as one of the league's top two or three teams. But the troubled Timberwolves (24-22) — who would be a lottery team if the season ended today — had little to offer against the Suns' typical offensive onslaught.
At the other end, the Suns put a hard-double team on superstar Kevin Garnett, and nobody else on the T-Wolves could rescue them.
Garnett is often a talkative sort on the court. But on this night, "He was awfully quiet," said the Suns' Steven Hunter, who has watched Garnett all the way back to high school in Chicago.
"Tonight, I didn't see the same passion for the game. . .It showed on his face."
"It felt like high school," said a downcast Garnett, saying he felt he was being triple-covered at times. All in all, he said, "We're in a difficult stage right now."
From their perspective, the Suns were jubilant that they finished their road trip 5-1 — the fifth best trip of five games or more in franchise history — while moving their record to 37-11.
"Good road trip, fellas!" called out Amaré Stoudemire.
"Five-and-one is pretty good," said Quentin Richardson. "Those are all road kills."
Stoudemire and Richardson took turns reciting the list: "We killed some Celtics. We killed some Knickerbockers. . ."
The outcome was stunning for two reasons:
— The Suns were completing one of their most brutal stretches in years; they were playing their 19th game in 32 days — sixth in the past nine nights — while 15 of their past 21 have been on the road.
Richardson, noting "words were exchanged" in recent games between the teams, said, "This is a game you want to get up for. You're kind of glad this is the last game."
— The Suns had lost eight straight here before winning last month. In this game, "We played about as well as we can play," D'Antoni said. The Suns have only 34 games left, 20 at home.
"Now the schedule turns in our favor," D'Antoni said. "It's up to us to make the most of it."
The Suns started to pull away just before halftime, as they cruised to a 60-45 lead at the break.
They put it away by scoring the first 11 points of the third quarter. Then, shooting with no worries, they bombed in a series of 3-pointers to take the lead to an astounding 40 points (95-55).
D'Antoni was able to light the victory cigar by bringing in Smush Parker, who might have seen his last action for the Suns (he might be released before Saturday's home game vs. New York) with almost seven minutes left and the Suns up, 98-68.
Parker indicated afterward he's not optimistic about his chances to stay.
An NBA spokesman defended a referee's decision to issue two technical fouls on the Suns Steve Nash Tuesday night in Memphis. The calls resulted in Nash's automatic ejection late in the Suns-Grizzlies game.
NBA officials generally try to avoid kicking a player out because of a dispute arising over a single call. But Jack Nies called two "Ts" on Nash after Nash complained about being fouled on a drive to the hoop in Memphis.
Nash admitted using two expletives in his complaint to Nies.
"He's a great guy for this league, but in this case I think he had a lapse," league spokesman Tim Frank said. Players can't assume they won't be penalized if they continue to argue a call, he said. A similar case happened recently involving Nick Van Exel of Denver, he said.
"In this case, I think Jack acted properly," he said of the Nash-Nies confrontation.
Nies, who lives in Tucson, is the NBA's oldest referee at age 67. Nash had said after the game, "Before I realized I had one 'T', I was gone. "I thought he jumped the gun. I didn't even get a chance to get my money's worth."
The San Antonio Spurs can clinch the All-Star coaching job for their staff with a win tonight at the Los Angeles Lakers. If they lose, the Suns could win it for their staff Saturday night with a win over the Knicks. . .
The T-Wolves Sam Cassell left the game after 10 minutes with a shoulder bruise and did not return.