After nearly two weeks away, the Sacramento Kings will return home road-wearied. Aside from knocking off the league’s two worst teams, the road was unrelenting for Sacramento.
To conclude their trip, less than 24 hours removed from battling with the Chicago Bulls, the Kings were tasked to keep up with the Minnesota Timberwolves without star center DeMarcus Cousins, who was out Sunday with knee tendinitis. Michael Malone said afterward that he wanted to give Cousins the night off after a grueling road trip.
Minnesota (33-32) shot down any hopes Sacramento (23-44) had of ending its road swing on high note and captured a 104-102 win in a close game Sunday.
The early goings were rough for the Kings, who initially looked sluggish on the second night of a back-to-back. The Timberwolves pushed the ball in transition and attacked the rim, which the Kings provided little, if any, resistance against. Ricky Rubio received outlet passes and immediately flung the ball to a streaking teammate, which was often Corey Brewer. Whether it was on the fastbreak or in the halfcourt, Brewer proved quick and stealthy, losing his man off of the ball before getting good looks at the rim. The back-and-forth first quarter ended with Minnesota ahead 32-29.
From then on, Sacramento tightened its grip defensively, looking sharper. In spite of the up-tempo, high-scoring first quarter, the Kings managed to hold the Timberwolves to 43.6 percent shooting on the night, but once again, mental mistakes sabotaged their chances at a win.
In what has become the theme of their road trip, the Kings were far too charitable with the basketball – 17 turnovers led to 18 points for the Timberwolves. On defense, they had trouble staying in front of their assignments at times, which led to fouling; Minnesota got to the free-throw line 38 times, twice as much as Sacramento. Ben McLemore fouled out in an unsuccessful effort to guard Kevin Martin, who scored a game-high 31 points.
“Another tough road loss; I was really hoping we’d pull this one out,” Malone said. “We have to do a much better job of defending without fouling. … And then 17 turnovers for 18 points – it’s really tough to (win when) you beat yourself on the road.”
Derrick Williams provided a spark off the bench to help offset the Kings’ mistakes. Playing against the team that drafted him, Williams looked to make an impact from the moment he checked in. He was immediately aggressive, attacking the basket and challenging his former teammates.
When Williams had the ball in his hands and was given even a glimpse of daylight, he pounced at it, driving to the rim and finishing, often times with contact. He finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds off of the Kings’ bench.
Isaiah Thomas did what he could as well, tallying 27 points and seven assists. But like the other positive aspects of Sacramento’s game Sunday, Thomas’ efforts, including with a pair late threes, weren’t enough to make up for the mistakes.
With the seven-game road trip behind them, the Kings now head home for a four-game homestand to lick their wounds and attempt to build momentum before closing out the season.
“The reality is we have a very tough Washington team waiting for us in our city,” Malone said. “We’ll be happy to get home, have a day off (Monday) and get back at it.”