The Sacramento Kings insist they’ve learned after blowing sizable leads in some of their most recent games.
They’ll try to apply those lessons on a four-game trek that begins Saturday night against the depleted Minnesota Timberwolves.
Sacramento (7-5) has won two of three and was steady in the fourth quarter in a 103-88 win over Chicago on Thursday. DeMarcus Cousins had six of his 22 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, and Rudy Gay added five of his 20 in the final six minutes.
"It’s been a tough week for us. We could never really find the rhythm at the end of the game," Gay said. "To play a well-coached team like this and finish the game says a lot about this team."
The Kings squandered a 26-point lead to Memphis in a 111-110 loss at the end of their latest trip Nov. 13, and frittered away advantages of 24 points at Dallas on Nov. 11 and 12 against visiting New Orleans on Tuesday that also resulted in defeats.
"In a way it was good, those losses taught us a lesson. It was a learning experience for us," guard Darren Collison said.
Sacramento begins its next trip by facing a Minnesota team that will likely be missing four starters once again. Ricky Rubio (ankle) is out indefinitely for the Timberwolves (3-8), as is Kevin Martin, who scored 37 points in a 115-99 win over New York on Wednesday after fracturing his right wrist in the first quarter.
They also likely won’t have Nikola Pekovic (wrist) or Thaddeus Young available until next week at the earliest. Young will reportedly rejoin the team Sunday following his mother’s funeral, and Pekovic is expected to miss at least one more game.
Without that quartet, Minnesota was routed 121-92 by visiting San Antonio on Friday. The Timberwolves were outshot 54.8 to 41.1 percent, outscored 54-30 in the paint and outrebounded 53-34.
Former No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett was a bright spot with a career-best 20 points off the bench. He’s averaging 8.8 points while shooting 63.6 percent in five home games.
"You’ve got to play with who you have," forward Robbie Hummel said. "We can’t be consumed with who we don’t have. We can’t focus on that."
Minnesota’s short-handed roster will likely make it hard-pressed to earn a fifth win in six home games against Sacramento, and the Timberwolves are playing their third game in four nights. They split the two matchups at the Target Center last season and four overall meetings.
"(It’s) going to be a tough game. Three games in four nights, and (the Kings) have been here resting and watching us play," coach Flip Saunders said. "They’re playing at a really high level. It’s early in the year but if you had to say, ‘Who are your top five guys for MVP?’ I’d say Cousins would have to be one of them right now with the way he’s playing."
Cousins averaged 25.3 points and 14.3 rebounds while playing in three matchups in 2013-14, and Gay is averaging 24.3 points in his last six meetings.