Timberwolves vs. Kings preview

Even a healthy DeMarcus Cousins hasn’t been enough to prevent the Sacramento Kings from sinking deeper in the Pacific Division.

Their next opponent is in no position to offer any sympathy at all.

Sacramento tries to notch its first win on a four-game road trip Thursday night when it faces the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Kings (13-19) have lost nine of 11 overall and four of the six games Cousins has played since returning from illness on Dec. 18. The star center hasn’t been at his best lately, scoring a season-low 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting in Wednesday’s 106-84 loss to Boston.

"We have to come together as a team — myself included," Cousins said. "I’m the leader of this team. I have to get my stuff together. I can’t have games like I had tonight. We have to come together and figure this thing out."

Porous defense continues to plague the Kings, who have failed to hold an opponent under 106 points in any of their last five contests. They rank second-to-last in the NBA, ahead of only New York, in opposing field goal percentage since Dec. 22 (48.9 percent).

Sacramento’s offensive performance Wednesday was equally poor. Rudy Gay shot 4 for 19 from the field, Darren Collison and Ben McLemore combined for six turnovers and, as a team, the Kings dished out only 12 assists to match a season low.

"Everything was just off tonight," said coach Tyrone Corbin, who reported prior to the game that his interim tag had been lifted for the remainder of the season. "It’s a disappointing effort, disappointing loss and we have to get better."

Minnesota (5-25) could be the perfect opponent for the struggling Kings, as the Timberwolves currently own the league’s second-worst scoring defense (108.7 points per game), ahead of only the Los Angeles Lakers. Their 100-94 loss at Utah on Tuesday was their ninth straight and 15th in 16 games.

The Timberwolves managed only one win in December — a fact the ever-positive Flip Saunders refuses to dwell on.

"We’ve actually done some positives things over the last couple weeks," Saunders said to Minnesota’s official site. "We just don’t have anything to show for it. There are some good things that our guys have done over the last couple weeks."

Ricky Rubio (ankle), Nikola Pekovic (ankle) and Kevin Martin (wrist) remain sidelined with injury, leaving the bulk of the scoring to rookie Andrew Wiggins and second-year guard Shabazz Muhammad. The two combined for 51 points Tuesday, led by Muhammad’s career-high 30.

Muhammad enters Thursday’s contest enjoying a hot streak from behind the arc. He has hit eight of 11 3-pointers over his last three games and owns a 48.4 field goal percentage from deep this season.

Still, the wins have not followed.

"That comes with experience," Muhammad said. "There are a lot of us that this is really the first time playing really big minutes in the NBA."

Cousins had 31 points and 18 rebounds, while Wiggins scored a career-best 29 in the Kings’ 113-101 win at Minnesota on Nov. 22.

Cousins has totaled 66 points on 24-of-36 shooting and 33 rebounds in his last two meetings with the Timberwolves.