The box score from the last game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings on New Year's Day tells a story of how much a team can change over the season. Thaddeus Young, Mo Williams, Jeff Adrien, and Shabazz Muhammad played in that game. The 77th game of this regular season featured a slightly different cast of players.
Once it was announced before this game that Demarcus Cousins would not play due to a sore right foot, this game looked like a different prospect for the Timberwolves. Cousins takes on all of the weakest parts of this team, and without him, the Wolves had the potential to keep it close. Overall, they did, eventually losing 116-111. Kevin Martin scored 37 points for the third different time this season and could have had a lot more had his outside shot been falling (only 3-11 from 3). Andrew Wiggins added 26 points and 8 rebounds, leading the team in rebounding, and Zach LaVine had a double-double with 21 points and 11 assists.
The Timberwolves started strong and finished strong, but dropped off strongly in the middle quarters. The combined score in the first and fourth quarters: Timberwolves 68, Kings 49. Second and third quarters? Kings 67, Wolves 43. The Kings led by 19 points early the fourth quarter, but needed 13 points from Rudy Gay in the fourth to hold off the Wolves' comeback effort after the Wolves started the fourth on an 18-5 run. Zach LaVine hit all four of his shots in the fourth (including a couple of ridiculous shots as he was falling over), and Kevin Martin had two of his three 3s.
Unbelievably (or perhaps too believably), the Wolves got crushed on the boards, 49-36, even without Cousins' presence on the interior. The Kings had five different players with at least seven rebounds (Derrick Williams, Ray McCallum, Reggie Evans, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson), while the Wolves had just the one (Wiggins). The Kings were looking to go to the rim almost every possession early in the game, and it worked really well. Justin Hamilton, while other parts of his game are reasonably strong, does not look like he protects the rim very well, and did not rebound well.
Arinze Onuaku played well in his Timberwolves debut, and played so much better than the rest of the bigs on the team that he played the entire fourth quarter. Onuaku, Budinger and Wiggins played the whole fourth at the 3-4-5, which, given Onuaku joined the team today, raises the eyebrow about Hamilton, Adreian Payne, and Robbie Hummel. The Hamilton-Payne-Hummel trio combined for 8 points and 5 rebounds in the entire game. The lineup of LaVine-Martin-Wiggins-Budinger-Onuaku was +13 in 8 minutes on the night with a 157.8 ORtg (!!!) and 12 of the Wolves' 36 rebounds. Only five-man lineup with a better Net Rating? The one that played 9 minutes: LaVine-Martin-Wiggins-Budinger-Hamilton, which somehow had an 84.5 DRtg. and a +53.0 NetRtg.
There were more bright spots this game than in a good few previous games. I mean, look at these finishes by Wiggins and LaVine!
Not easy. pic.twitter.com/wPAMwaClrF— Zachary Bennett (@ZacharyBD) April 8, 2015
Here's something we haven't seen before. pic.twitter.com/CEfH93CWc4— Zachary Bennett (@ZacharyBD) April 8, 2015
The Timberwolves made a game out of this. It wasn't pretty, they didn't win, but they fought back from a big deficit and actually made a close game. These are the things where hope can be found.