Kings Blog

Timberwolves sprint past struggling Kings

Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) goes to the basket and scores against the Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) during an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Towns had game-highs of 29 points and 17 rebounds.
Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) goes to the basket and scores against the Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) during an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Towns had game-highs of 29 points and 17 rebounds. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The cynics have said the Kings’ organization has been without direction for some time, but that’s usually a shot at the front office that has seen its share of missteps over the years.

But in the aftermath of the trade that sent All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans, the Kings on the court are struggling to find their way, with the latest example coming in a 102-88 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night at Golden 1 Center.

The Kings have not resembled the squad that had won five its past seven games heading into the All-Star break, and just 1  1/2 games out of Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

The Kings are still 1  1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth spot. But in their past two games, they look like a team set to free fall for a better draft pick as young players are thrust into the lineup and veterans who could help are injured.

In their last two games, the Kings are averaging 86.5 points since its 116-100 win over Denver, a poor defensive team.

Sacramento was done in against Minnesota by a bad second quarter in which they were outscored 40-19. The Kings had no answer to slow down the combination of Karl-Anthony Towns (game-highs of 29 points and 17 rebounds) and Andrew Wiggins (27 points). Towns scored 13 in that quarter alone.

Before dealing Cousins, the Kings could rely on their bench for a spark most nights. But with all the changes, the identity of the second unit is in flux.

Minnesota’s run was sparked by its bench, and the Timberwolves (24-36) led by as many as 21 points.

“I thought our bench came in and got us going,” Minnesota coach Tom Thiboudeau said. “I thought (Nemanja Bjelica), Tyus (Jones) and Kris (Dunn) brought a lot of energy, along with (Shabazz Muhammad). That got us going.”

How to stop those runs is a work in progress. It’s no longer as simple as giving the ball to Cousins. With so many new faces on the court, it’s hard to figure out who to turn to.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m confused,” guard Ty Lawson said. “Sometimes I’m trying to figure out what play I can run that everybody knows.”

Guard Darren Collison said as the Kings are able to add more plays to the offense he is “confident” things will improve. He’s not surprised the offense will be stagnant at times now, so it’s up to the Kings to play better defense to try to create fast break chances.

“With a new rotation, the best way to do it is to try to get easy buckets in transition and try to get as many easy points as you can,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “But until then, we’ve just got to figure out a way to really cause havoc on the defensive end.”

The Kings actually outshot the Timberwolves, 43.9 percent to 42.1 percent. But the Kings gave up 23 second-chance points and were outrebounded 52-42.

The Kings also committed 18 turnovers for 20 points.

The issues aren’t for a lack of effort, but are to be expected.

“We turned the ball over too much,” Joerger said. “ … fumbling around, ball hit us in the hands a lot of times. We dropped some balls and didn’t get loose balls like we needed to get; and some of those hustle points, they ran out and (got layups).”

Ben McLemore, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos each scored 14 points for the Kings (25-35). Koufos also had 11 rebounds. Tyreke Evans scored 13 points.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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