The Kings were well rested. They’d already lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves once this season.
So there was no real explanation why the Kings came out with a collective lack of enthusiasm in perhaps their most winnable game to start a four-game trip.
The Kings quickly trailed by 14 in the first quarter and had their late rally thwarted by the brilliant play of Andrew Wiggins (32 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) in a 99-95 loss to the Timberwolves on Friday night at Target Center. The loss ended Sacramento’s three-game winning streak.
There was no one to blame but the players after they spent much of the first half watching Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Shabazz Muhammad and others run by them.
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“We’ve got to win the games we’re supposed to win,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “We’ve got to treat every team the same. No matter if it’s a team below .500 or the top seed in the conference. It’s on us. We can’t have starts the way we did.”
To be a playoff team, the Kings must show more mental focus, especially on the road.
Playoff teams look to put away a young team like Minnesota early. Instead, the Kings gave the Timberwolves confidence with their lackluster start.
“It was just no energy, no focus on anything,” said Kings coach George Karl. “We had to be punched before we reacted, and I don’t know if we’re good enough to do that on the road.”
The Timberwolves jumped to a 25-11 lead against the Kings, who now have the same 10-16 record as Minnesota. Watching the teams play, one wouldn’t believe the Kings began the season talking about the playoffs while the Timberwolves were projected to be near the bottom of the standings.
Minnesota, which had been 3-10 at home, took the fight to the Kings early. And when Sacramento managed to lead 90-89 with 3:03 to play, Wiggins scored four consecutive points.
But it all goes back to the start of the game. Karl said the Kings’ defensive effort in the first half was “mediocre.” Minnesota shot 54.5 percent in the first half.
“Our energy was low,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “We put our heads down when they scored a couple baskets. We turned the ball over to start the game, and they capitalized. We didn’t get back in transition. It was a mixture of a lot of things that allowed them to get to that 14-point lead in the first quarter.”
Added Cousins: “We brought it on ourselves. We know what we did wrong tonight. Very sluggish start. They hit us in the mouth early, and we were fighting the rest of the game. When we put ourselves in situations like that, it’s hard to win games.”
The Kings came out overconfident, and it cost them.
“We don’t have that great margin,” Karl said. “To win on the road, there’s a thin margin of success, and I don’t think we respect it enough at times. We don’t have a focus to complete the win, complete the success.”
Rondo had 11 points and 13 assists in his return from a one-game suspension for using a gay slur toward referee Bill Kennedy. Rondo also received six stitches after taking an inadvertent elbow from Gorgui Dieng.