MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves are playing without injured stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, so they might not be flashy for a while.
That was fine on opening night. They had hustle and defense, which is exactly what they tried to add for this season.
J.J. Barea had 21 points and five assists in 28 minutes, helping the Timberwolves overcome a shaky shooting performance and beat the Sacramento Kings 92-80 on Friday.
“The bench did a great job,” Barea said. “We came out with a lot of energy.”
Brandon Roy pitched in 10 points, six assists and five rebounds and Andrei Kirilenko added 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists as both players returned to NBA action for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season. But the reserves were the stars of the sold-out show for the Wolves, who survived a 2-for-17 performance from 3-point range by holding Sacramento to 15 fourth-quarter points.
“This team is deep. We have a lot of guys that are just raring to go at any minute,” said Dante Cunningham, who grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Isaiah Thomas had 14 of his 20 points in the third quarter for the Kings, who trailed for most of the game but overtook the Wolves for a stretch after halftime. Reserve Marcus Thornton had 15 points, but DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans were quiet. The Kings were called for 34 fouls compared to 17 on the home team.
“Very frustrating. It’s even more frustrating when the types of fouls that you’re getting aren’t really physical fouls,” Cousins said, adding: “It’s just tough for me because the time I am able to play, I’m just all out of whack.”
Greg Stiemsma had something to do with that, too. Giving Nikola Pekovic a break, he hounded Cousins around the basket and had nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 16 minutes. Kirilenko said he thought Stiemsma intimidated the Kings on a couple of possessions.
“That’s my job. Come in, block shots, get some rebounds. Just be a presence in the paint. Just let guys know that I’m there,” Stiemsma said.
The Wolves built a 45-27 lead, but they started to let the Kings turn their misses into fast breaks and suddenly found themselves in a scramble midway through the third quarter after a 31-9 surge by Sacramento spanning intermission gave the Kings a five-point lead. Just seconds later, however, Cousins drew his fifth foul and had to sit.
The reserves led the Wolves on a 12-0 spurt to regain command of the game. With Stiemsma’s long arms and soft touch in the post, Barea’s quickness and confidence and the varied contributions by Cunningham and Chase Budinger, the second group sure looked sharper than the first. Minnesota’s bench outscored Sacramento’s 46-28 and held a 26-17 rebounding edge, too.
“Part of growing up with this team is not to take the quick shots at that particular point, to focus on what you need at that moment, and obviously it didn’t happen,” Kings coach Keith Smart said.
He was happy with his defense. The Kings were by far the easiest team to score against in 2011-12, allowing an average of more than 104 points per game.
“Once we attack the basket, I think we can get more fouls,” Evans said. “That’s what they did: They attacked the basket, and they got a lot of calls.”
Cousins had just 11 points and four rebounds. Evans, who had 21 points and eight rebounds in Sacramento’s opener, finished with six points on 3-for-14 shooting.
The Kings have a streak of six straight losing seasons that coincides with the amount of time since coach Rick Adelman was fired. Now he’s with the Wolves, trying to turn them into the perennial playoff team he had in Sacramento. If he can pull this off without Rubio (left knee surgery) and Love (broken right hand) for at least the first month of the season, the job will be all the more impressive.
The sharp-dressed men behind the bench — Rubio was in a charcoal suit coat; Love wore dark gray — didn’t see the prettiest performance. But they saw some real grit.
“We just picked it up, didn’t let it bother us and we went on a run of ourselves. That’s the NBA game right there,” Barea said.
NOTES: Roy played 30 minutes. “It’s good to know that I was able to handle it well. My knees felt great, besides some cramps. First game back, I’m excited going forward,” he said. … Kings swingman John Salmons has rejoined the team after a two-week absence to be with his wife and newborn child, but he’s not ready for game action yet. Smart said his conditioning needs to be built back up before he’ll use him. … This was the fourth time in seven years that the Timberwolves opened their season at home against the Kings. Sacramento was the opponent for six of the franchise’s 24 openers.
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