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NBA: Sacramento Kings at Minnesota Timberwolves
Anthony Edwards and De’Aaron Fox faced off as each makes their All-Star case.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

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Kings 118, Wolves 111: Free Throws, Turnovers, Techs, and ‘Old Habits’

Go ahead, light the beam in Sacramento.

MINNEAPOLIS — There will be no victorious aurora green beams seen downtown tonight.

A pull-up three from the right slot by Jaden McDaniels tied the game at 103 with 13.5 seconds left before a final isolation drive and jumper by De’Aaron Fox that was well contested by Anthony Edwards fell short to send things to overtime where the Kings would have to win without their fouled-out star center, Domantas Sabonis.

Turns out the Kings didn’t need Sabonis to get the job done after he fouled out with 51.7 left in the fourth. Trey Lyles took over the five in a small-ball lineup that ended up being the perfect curveball — corner threes by Lyles and rookie Keegan Murray, and two dunks by Lyles on a baseline drive off the catch and one absolutely bad defensive breakdown (see the tweet below) were daggers dashing the Wolves’ hopes of pulling out back-to-back wins over the NBA league pass darlings of the 2022-23 season.

Head coach Chris Finch said he should’ve played a different lineup in OT that would’ve been better defensively, presumably meaning either playing (1) smaller without Gobert to match the quicker Lyles with Naz Reid or Kyle Anderson at the five, or (2) inserting either Taurean Prince or Austin Rivers for D’Angelo Russell for improved perimeter defense.

“Overtime was simply about guarding the spread offense. We couldn’t do it,” said Finch. “I gotta get different lineups out there that can do it. That’s on me for sure.”

Fox led the way for the Kings with 32 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals in the 118-111 win to move his squad to 28-21 overall and third in the crammed West.

Before fouling out, two of the league’s best bigs gave fans a wonderful boxing match — Sabonis and Rudy Gobert battled in the paint all night in a physical matchup. They exchanged hits to the face during one sequence that saw a call overturned to an offensive foul on Sabonis after a video review showed he crushed Gobert’s face before Gobert landed an elbow to Sabonis’s.

Gobert finished with 19 points (7-9 shooting) and 14 rebounds in 40 minutes. He continues to look more comfortable in the Wolves’ offense rolling out of high-ball screens, screening just about everyone open, and even spending some time in the dunker spot where he generated easy offense. Defensively, he controlled the show before the small-ball OT Kings that were previously mentioned showed up. Sabonis had 17 points, 13 rebounds, and one brief moment of anger when he drew a technical foul for arguing a non-foul call on Gobert. He bolted for the tunnel as if he were tossed from the game with a double technical before returning for more low-post brawling.

Anthony Edwards had himself another fine night in pursuit of his first All-Star game, finishing with 33 points (14-27), 8 rebounds, and five assists — Ant has been crashing the glass well of late as Finch has pleaded with his team to gang rebound through the season.

Edwards declined to comment in the locker room after the game, but ultimately the Wolves were too sloppy in key areas they can’t be. Whether it was the frustrating 12-24 night from the free throw line, the three technical fouls called on Anderson, Reid, and Jaylen Nowell, the 21 points allowed off 18 turnovers, or one of D’Angelo Russell’s only bad shooting nights (4-16) in the month of January, they left too much room for the Kings to steal the win.

“We didn’t have a very clean or good performance,” said Finch. “I thought we gave ourselves chances to win that game. I thought some old habits bit us in the ass tonight with the turnovers.”

Can we talk about how many technicals they have? Too many.

Harrison Barnes and Kevin Hurter were kept extremely quiet in the two-game home series at Target Center. Was it great shot contesting or positive variance for the Wolves? The two sharpshooters almost clanked their team two losses, going a combined 9-of-37 from the field. It’s a missed opportunity for the Wolves, seeing as Barnes (sporting a 64.3 True Shooting %, good for 19th in the league) and Huerter 62.0% (40th) entered the night as two of the most efficient shooters. It was Malik Monk (19 points on tough drives/finishes), Keegan Murray (13 points, 13 rebounds), and Lyles who gave the Kings the extra juice they were searching for without their perimeter threats in sync.

Even with a disappointing result on this -11 degree night, the January schedule comes to a close as a resounding 11-5 success. Anthony Edwards is becoming a superstar in front of our eyes and the team has started to gell and find its way without Karl-Anthony Towns in the mix.

To February we go...hopefully a month of continued growth.