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MINNESOTA WINS BATTLE FOR T-WOLVES

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Now that it's certain that the Minnesota Timberwolves will be staying, the team's owners are seeking to distance themselves from Top Rank of Louisiana, the group that wanted to move the team to New Orleans.

Owners Marvin Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming that the Timberwolves' sale fell through because Top Rank didn't turn over information that the NBA had requested.The suit was filed after the NBA Board of Governors, meeting in New York, voted to reject the sale. The board followed the recommendation of the league's relocation committee, which last week said that Top Rank's $152.5 million offer was inadequately financed.

The board vote, 25-1 with one abstention, ensures that the Timberwolves will remain in Minneapolis for at least one more season, but NBA commissioner David Stern said it probably will be much longer.

In their 25-page suit filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, the team owners argued that Top Rank's failure to turn over information constituted a breach of the July 5 purchase agreement. Judge James Rosenbaum was asked to nullify the purchase agreement immediately.

The action is in response to a lawsuit filed last week by the NBA accusing the Timberwolves of failing to provide information about Top Rank's financing.

Wolfenson and Ratner also want damages, attorneys' fees and a court order preventing New Orleans from interfering with another sale.

Spokeswoman Pat Gormin said Top Rank officials had no plans to fight Wolfenson and Ratner's legal effort to terminate the contract. Asked if Top Rank would bow out, Gormin said, "It appears that way."

Timberwolves president Bob Stein said the team would have an announcement today regarding "the next step." He would not comment further.