The Minnesota Timberwolves are a better team than the Kings at this stage of the season, especially when the Kings are without their best player.
But Sacramento coach George Karl said some of his players didn’t get that message.
“I think a lot of ways mentally we fatigued by not respecting our opponent because this is a good, young team,” Karl said.
The Kings should have newfound respect after Minnesota took it to them in a 101-91 Timberwolves win Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.
Minnesota, which entered the game shooting 44.5 percent for the season, did as many opponents do against the Kings – shoot better than their season average. Minnesota (8-8) shot 48.1 percent while the Kings, playing without DeMarcus Cousins (lower back strain) and with Rudy Gay struggling, could not keep up.
We just don’t have a luxury without Cuz playing to not give an effort defensively.
George Karl, Kings coach
“We just don’t have a luxury without Cuz playing to not give an effort defensively,” Karl said.
The Kings are 1-6 without Cousins this season. He’s missed the past two games with his back injury.
“I don’t feel like our defense is bad,” said rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein. “I just feel like we give up on some plays and they might hit a three or get a foul. There’s just some plays where we have mental letdowns and we give up second-chance points. That’s a big thing.”
The Kings entered the game 29th in the NBA in points allowed per game (108.9) and opponents’ field-goal percentage (46.9). And in what has become customary, the opposing team’s perimeter players feasted on the Kings’ attempts at defense.
Andrew Wiggins scored a game-high 22 points. Zach LaVine started in place of Ricky Rubio (ankle) and had 19 points and four assists. Andre Miller, who turns 40 next March, came off the bench for 12 points and four assists.
Karl said the Kings have many issues defensively and defending the perimeter is a big one.
“Our presence on the ball,” Karl said. “Our one, two and three men have got to take more pride.”
Rajon Rondo had 16 points, 16 assists and no turnovers for the Kings (6-11), but Gay had perhaps his worst game of the season. He missed 12 of 13 from the field and had only two points. He was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of Omri Casspi.
But even with Gay’s struggles, the Kings must figure out how to deny teams such easy offense. The Timberwolves scored 101 points despite having 18 turnovers and scoring zero fast-break points.
Karl changed up his lineup at halftime, benching rookie Cauley-Stein for the second time in the past three games. Quincy Acy replaced Cauley-Stein to start the second half but was pulled after playing less than four minutes.
Karl conceded that between injuries and his trying to figure out the right combinations, he could be affecting the ability to defend better.
“You’ve got to blame me,” Karl said. “Trying to find answers is my job, and in the end I’m the win-loss guy.”