Preview: Wolves vs. Kings
MINNEAPOLIS -- Thankfully for the Minnesota Timberwolves, you can go home again.
Returning home has been a comfortable feeling all year for Minnesota, particularly lately when they have lost back-to-back road games on each of the past five trips before coming back to Target Center. Each time, the Timberwolves won.
Minnesota has won 12 home games in a row heading into Sunday against the Sacramento Kings. The Wolves have lost 10 of 11 on the road.
Their chance to keep the streak going at home comes on the heels of a 114-113 loss at Chicago, which marked the return of coach Tom Thibodeau, All-Star Jimmy Butler and power forward Taj Gibson. But it was former Minnesota guard Zach LaVine who came through in the final minutes to lead the Bulls.
LaVine scored Chicago's final eight points as he outscored the Wolves 8-2 over the final 1:20 for the victory, hitting three free throws with 18.4 seconds left for the winning margin.
"We're not good enough to think the game is over five minutes into the third quarter," Thibdoeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after Minnesota led by as many as 17 in the third. "When you do that, we messed around, we played with fire and we got burned."
The Wolves (34-24) got a day off to recharge before hosting Sacramento as the schedule begins to ease a bit for Minnesota. The Wolves have three straight games at home over a five-day span and are on their longest home winning streak since putting 14 straight home wins together during the 2003-04 season.
"(That day off) helps tremendously, not only just physically but mentally," Minnesota guard Jamal Crawford told the Star Tribune. "When you're out there, you have to be as locked in as possible. You're playing against the best players in the world and you have to be locked in every single second because that possession can mean something in the game."
The Kings (17-37) have committed to playing their young players as they the fewest wins in the Western Conference. Sacramento traded veteran point guard George Hill to Cleveland at Thursday's trade deadline, acquiring draft picks and cash.
The Kings also traded Malachi Richardson and waived Georgios Papagiannis while, adding Bruno Caboclo and deciding to see what they have in a nucleus of rookie point guard De'Aaron Fox, wings Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdanovic and post players Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labisserie.
"This is the part of the season where you want to put it in the fifth or sixth gear with the young guys," general manager Vlade Divac told the Sacramento Bee. "Let them go."
Labisserie and backup point guard, rookie Frank Mason III, are out with injuries. But Fox, the fifth-overall pick in the 2017 draft, has been playing more than 30 minutes per game since returning from injury. He had a tough time against Portland in the Kings' last game, when Damian Lillard scored 50 points in three quarters in a 118-100 Sacramento loss.
"Of course it's difficult every night, especially playing this position," Fox told the Bee. "But when somebody is making shots like that, ain't much you can do."
"It was a good experience, if you want to call it that, for our young guys, our rookies," Sacramento coach Dave Joerger told the Bee.
Veterans Zach Randolph and Vince Carter are still around to guide the young squad, but it won't get any easier against a Wolves team returning to their den.