Here we go again. Following a last-ditch pass from Ricky Rubio to Dante Cunningham for a missed desperation three-point attempt, the Wolves found themselves on the wrong side of a matchup against a vastly inferior opponent in the Sacramento Kings. Led by young guards Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans, the Kings defeated Minnesota by a score of 101-98.
Inching closer to full strength, the Wolves once again started the lineup of Rubio-Ridnour-Kirilenko-Williams-Pekovic but saw marginal production from their primary scorers. AK-47 provided just 6 points on 3-9 shooting while Luke Ridnour shot just 1-7 from the field notching only 4 points.
Some good news for Timberwolves fans from Thursday night was the return of Chase Budinger, who after suffering a torn meniscus back on November 10th was able to log 18 minutes against the Kings. It is too late for Chase to help Minnesota push to the playoffs, but he is sure to provide improved perimeter shooting for the last month of the season. Budinger finished with 9 points (3-7 FG) and 4 rebounds.
Who would have thought that 66 games into the season, Minnesota would have a worse record than the 25-44 Sacramento Kings. This is a tremendous failure for a team that came into the season with legitimate playoff aspirations. Regardless of the myriad of injuries this team has faced, the Kings should in no way be outperforming the Love-less Pups.
Derrick Williams had a tough night shooting as he scored 12 points on 6-16 shooting. Following a strong past month of play, D-Will has been unable to gain consistency in his scoring on a nightly basis and it is tough to know which Derrick is going to show up. I will be the first to admit that I have been very impressed by the 21-year-olds growth this season as he has come a long way since the final two months of the previous season, but I really want to see Derrick use the last several weeks to start to produce on a much more consistent basis.
Nikola Pekovic led the Timberwolves in scoring with 18 points to go along with 12 boards, but shot only 6-12 from the field. Minnesota really needs Pek to step up in a big way if they are to finish the season on a strong note.
Keys of the Game:
- Three-point shooting - It is very difficult to win a game when you shoot 1-19 from three. Well, that is precisely what the Timberwolves did as they lost by a mere 3 points. Finding and signing three-point shooters must be a priority of the Timberwolves brass this coming summer as they have struggled mightily from beyond the arc this season.
- Shot-blocking - The Wolves blocked just two shots compared to 6 by the Kings. Minnesota has not done a great job of protecting the rim this season as they lack athleticism and length in their frontcourt.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Tyreke Evans - Evans managed to score 19 of his 21 points in the second half to go along with 5 points and 5 rebounds in 39 minutes. Despite a quiet first half in which Tyreke seemed to disappear, the third-year guard stayed patient and was ultimately the key to Sacramento’s victory. Evans shot 8-11 from the floor and put on full display the top end talent and abilities that made him the rookie of the year just a few years ago.
- Isaiah Thomas - Taken with the 60th – and final – selection of the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas has turned into a valuable piece of the Kings young rotation. After Aaron Brooks flopped as the starting point guard for Sacramento, Thomas has continued to provide crafty scoring and good passing as the starter. Standing at only 5-foot-9, Thomas matched up well against JJ Barea but had a more difficult time on the defensive end opposite of the taller and longer Ricky Rubio. In 35 minutes, Thomas finished with 24 points (8-15 FG, 3-6 3PT), 6 assists and 3 rebounds.
- Ricky Rubio - Another near triple-double for Ricky, who committed only 1 turnover in 32 minutes while recording 12 points (4-13 FG), 9 assists, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. It was another frustrating night shooting the ball for the Spaniard, and it is clear that shooting must be the focus of his offseason training for this coming summer. Although he has established himself as an above-average free throw shooter, Ricky has a lot of trouble knocking down shots off the dribble in the speed of the NBA game.