On Sunday, mid-March seemed a lot like early January.
Darko Milicic started, and Anthony Randolph played rather than sat out as a healthy scratch. There were 21 Minnesota turnovers -- far too many -- and the Kings scored 29 points off of them en route to a 115-99 blowout. Sounds a lot like the Timberwolves of two months ago, no?
Some things have stayed constant this season. Milicic played just six minutes, scoring two points in yet another disappointing performance. Kevin Love finished with another double-double, 21 points and 11 rebounds. Luke Ridnour was just fine, with 13 points and five rebounds. But disappointing, a double-double and just fine weren't enough on Sunday.
It's the variables that reveal the truth, that injuries and lapses tripped up this once-promising squad in its 46th game. If it were January, Michael Beasley would be injured. Derrick Williams wouldn't have logged 33 minutes and scored 16 points; his development has become a bright spot only in the season's second half. Nikola Pekovic would be just another unknown, not one of the league's breakout stars who's sidelined with an foot injury.
So yes, all that has changed, but even the bright spots couldn't keep the exasperation at bay in Sacramento.
"It was very poor from the very beginning," Timberwolves' coach Rick Adelman said. "We didn't guard anyone, we gave up... turnovers. Everything that we started the season trying to avoid, we did tonight."
The Kings entered Sunday's game on the heels of a big 120-95 win over the Celtics on Friday. They've been far better at home this season than on the road, with a 12-9 record there and a 4-20 mark on the road. The Timberwolves had lost two in a row on their seven-game road trip coming into Sunday, and the circumstances weren't in their favor. Even so, they did nothing to combat whatever disadvantage momentum and a hostile crowd might afford them, and even Beasley's return from a toe injury wasn't enough to provide much extra energy.
The Timberwolves, who went into halftime with the game tied at 57, let things slip away in the second half, when the Kings outscored them 58-42. But it wasn't a lack of energy or effort on the part of Minnesota that cost it the game; it was that youthful recklessness, turnovers and sloppy plays, the same things that it grappled with in the early days of the season. The teamwork, the passing and the united effort that emerged in February simply weren't there.
"If there's frustration on the bench, you've got to direct it to who we're playing," Adelman said. "Stuff's going to happen, but nobody on this team is going to do it individually. We're either going to do it as a team, or we're not going to do it."
Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas said his team came into the game with the goal of playing a fast-paced and aggressive style, and it seemed that when the Timberwolves tried to match that pace, the mechanics and rhythm of their game fell apart. And as much as youth might be in part to blame, the Kings are younger even than the Timberwolves, proving that inexperience can't always be an excuse.
"We got a lot of steals, and that gets us going and gets us out in transition, gets us easy buckets," Thomas said.
It was just another loss, but that's been the case after each of the team's past three games. At some point, just another loss can tip the scales toward something more final, and something on Sunday seemed to hint that this team needs to get itself back on track as soon as possible if it wants to make an impact.
Just as it was in January, the playoffs are again a dream, not the attainable goal that they were just a short week ago. Maybe it was the energized crowd, which has been growing in number as the Kings' fate of remaining in Sacramento has become clearer. Or perhaps it was the resignation at the end, when even rookie Malcolm Lee was allowed onto the court for four minutes. It's been rare this season for a game to be as out of reach as Sunday's was for the Timberwolves, and this one will go down as one of the year's most frustrating.
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