MINNEAPOLIS — So this is what it's like to be out of the playoff chase.

That's what the Jazz had to be thinking Friday night, after they prolonged what little is left of their own postseason aspirations with a 103-95 win at Minnesota.

It came against a Timberwolves team that sat out All-Star Kevin Garnett for the whole second quarter and the entire fourth quarter — and made no apologies for it.

"It was tough on our fans, but we have got to get our young players ready next year and the future," Minnesota coach Dwane Casey said after hearing chants of "KG, KG" from disappointed spectators who wanted to watch Garnett play in the fourth. "It hurts me, and it hurts the fans, to see Kevin on the bench — but it's a bigger-picture thing."

Garnett — who posted a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double despite his 24 limited minutes — seemed to have mixed feelings on the matter.

"He's the coach," the 2004 NBA MVP said. "I do what the coach tells me.

"I can't remember the last time I played 24 minutes," Garnett added. "My knees are thanking Casey at this point."

The Jazz, who've won four of their last six games, may be thanking him as well.

To a degree.

"They've got to do what they've got to do," coach Jerry Sloan said of the 31-45 Timberwolves, who went into the game planning all along to limit Garnett's time.

"Our job," added Sloan, whose 36-39 club still trails the Los Angeles Lakers, the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets for the final two playoff berths in the NBA's Western Conference, "is still to try to win the ballgame, as far as I can tell, because we're not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Although at times I think we played like we were."

The Jazz, who never trailed by more than four, finally took the lead for good when 30-point game-high scorer Carlos Boozer finished a Devin Brown-fed layup with just more than a minute remaining in the third quarter.

When the period ended, and Garnett went to the bench to watch the rest, Utah was up three at 79-76.

The Jazz, at times lulled into playing as little defense as the hardly-any Timberwolves, proceeded to twice go up by as many as nine in the first six minutes of the final quarter.

Minnesota twice cut that advantage to as few as four, and were within five until Boozer dunked to make it 102-95 with just less than a minute remaining.

It's with that framework in mind that the sentiments of the Jazz, who close a back-to-back set against Portland tonight at the Delta Center, really were all over the board as the chief building block of Minnesota's franchise had a seat for the finish.

"I was glad to see him sitting over there on the sideline," rookie point guard Deron Williams said.

"If I would be coach, and our team would be out of the playoffs," swingman Andrei Kirilenko said, "I would probably give young guys playing time. That would be understandable."

"You want to play against great players," Brown said. "But in a situation where we're up six late in the fourth — you never know. He (Garnett) can come off the bench, and run off 10. So, you know, it's kind of nice to see him rest and get ready for next year."

Sloan's thoughts on the matters were similarly conflicted.

On one hand, he said, "I want to play the best 12 players they've got. "I think you should have to earn it."

On the other: "But I can't do anything about their decisions, and I'm not trying to." Obviously, when (players) get hurt you can't do anything about that; if they make a decision, I can't do anything about that, either. But I always want to play the best."

Sloan, in fact, went one step farther.

He admitted he probably will rest his best so youngsters can play should the Jazz be eliminated before playing their final seven games of the regular season, which for them ends April 19 at the Delta Center against Golden State.

"It probably will have to come down to that at some time or another, possibly," the Jazz coach said. "I'll start playing some different people, too.

"Because they (other teams) have got to do what they've got to do, and I've got to do what I have to too."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com