The Kings might not have played their best, but the effort was good, and that’s really all coach George Karl can ask for at this stage of the season.
Preparing for the offseason is more of a priority than wins for the Kings, who lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves 105-97 Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena.
“Tonight we didn’t play with a lot of quality,” Karl said. “I thought the desire and intensity was there.”
The Kings rested two of their marquee players, DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, affecting a quality of basketball already hurt by injuries on the team. Youthful Minnesota, on the other hand, was brimming with confidence after winning at Golden State in overtime on Tuesday.
The Timberwolves won all four games against the Kings this season, the first sweep of the series for Minnesota.
A loss only improves the Kings’ position in June’s NBA draft; if their pick falls outside the top 10, their first-round selection goes to the Chicago Bulls.
There’s still grumbling among fans – some understand the business decision to sit key players, but others resent buying tickets with the knowledge healthy stars could be rested.
But that’s how the NBA works in early April. Some teams play for playoff positioning, others for draft positioning.
Karl understands why the front office wants to rest players, even if that’s not his preference.
“How do I answer that and make anybody happy?” Karl said about having to rest players. “It’s going to make somebody unhappy. Basketball decisions now are influenced by a lot of things.”
For the Kings, it’s also the desire to hold on to their first-round pick, which they’re in danger of losing thanks to a 2011 trade with Cleveland for J.J. Hickson. Cleveland has since traded the rights to the top-10 protected pick to Chicago.
The Kings will continue to give more minutes to rookie Willie Cauley-Stein and second-year big man Eric Moreland. Guard Seth Curry will play a lot, too.
“Yes, we know we ask the fans to be more understanding of our philosophies or plans or paths,” Karl said. “Everybody’s doing it. I’ll say, ‘Well, I’m old school. I like playing every game like it means something and everything has equal meaning,’ but everybody’s doing it. Philosophically, I can see the good in why you do it, and I can see, philosophically, with the fans why they’re upset.”
The Kings (31-48) won without Cousins and Rondo last Saturday at Denver, but knocking off the Timberwolves (27-52) was going to be a challenge.
Minnesota attacks with its wings, which the Kings have struggled to contain all season. Minnesota guard Zach LaVine scored 18 points, all in the first half.
Then Minnesota’s big men took advantage, without the defense of Cousins and the Kings frontcourt in foul trouble. Center Gorgui Dieng led the Timberwolves with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Nemanja Bjelica came off the bench to score a career-high 18 points.
Darren Collison led the Kings with 19 points. Quincy Acy had 17 points off the bench. Rudy Gay had an off-shooting night (4 of 15) but finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The Kings’ home finale is Saturday against Oklahoma City, the final game at Sleep Train before the Kings move into Golden 1 Center.
Sacramento figures to have all healthy players ready Saturday.
“We can’t make excuses,” said Kings center Kosta Koufos. “We have a very talented team but it’s one of those things that stuff does happen, whether it’s through injuries or even trades through the business aspect. For us, we have to look at ourselves individually and just continue to play hard and be professional, whatever the scenario may be.”