Preview: Wolves vs. Kings

The Sacramento Kings have already been eliminated from postseason contention. The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t far behind them.

What began as a season of optimism for Minnesota is about to end in disappointment. The Timberwolves, with a roster of young stars that includes Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the now-injured Zach LaVine, felt poised to make a playoff run in 2016-17.

Entering Saturday’s game against the Kings, though, Minnesota is 30-44 and on the brink of playoff extinction. Still, the Wolves are trying to take some positives out of the end of the season.

One of those silver linings came Thursday, when point guard Ricky Rubio scored a career-high 33 points. Rubio hasn’t been known as a scorer throughout his NBA career, but he put on an offensive display in Minnesota’s win against the Lakers.

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Whether or not Rubio’s increased offensive output can continue into next season remains to be seen, but the sixth-year point guard has been trending in the right direction.

“It feels good. I’m feeling a lot of confidence and I think the experience is starting to pay off and the work that I put in, too,” Rubio said after Thursday’s game. “Starting the season, I wasn’t feeling that good and now I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”

The Kings, meanwhile, enter Saturday’s game at Target Center one night after a lopsided 117-89 road loss against the New Orleans Pelicans — and former Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins, who scored 37 points against his old team. Since Sacramento (29-47) dealt Cousins to the Pelicans, the Kings have been trying to find out who can be among the team’s top scorers.

Rookie Buddy Hield — one of the pieces in the Cousins trade — had 13 points in Friday’s loss and has averaged 14.4 points per game in his last 10 contests.

For the rest of the season, Sacramento hopes to get a glimpse of what type of player Hield can be for the Kings. He averaged just 8.6 points a game in 57 games with New Orleans but has already upped his average to nearly 14 points a game with Sacramento.

“I do want to show people how motivated I am,” Hield told SacramentoKings.com. “I know how hard I work and how much I love this game. Whatever situation I find myself in next year, I’m going to go as hard as I can. I want to compete with the best in the world.”

With only a handful of games remaining, both Minnesota and Sacramento have already started looking ahead to next season. The Wolves are missing some pieces due to injury, but were pleased with the physicality of Thursday’s game.

“That’s how everyone’s going to treat us,” Towns said. “They look at us as a young team without that fight, so we’ve got to go out there and prove ourselves. We’ve got to earn the respect of our opponents.”