J.J. Barea's 21 points help Wolves overcome poor shooting, win opener
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MINNEAPOLIS -- J.J. Barea had 21 points and five assists in 28 minutes, helping the Minnesota Timberwolves overcome a weak shooting performance in their season opener to beat the Sacramento Kings 92-80 on Friday night at Target Center.
Brandon Roy contributed with 10 points, six assists and five rebounds, and Andrei Kirilenko added 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists as both players made their Wolves debuts, returning to NBA action for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season.
"I thought J.J. was terrific," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "He came in and attacked the basket. ... It was a solid win. It was a win that showed us what we can do."
Said Barea: "I've been feeling good lately. My body felt good in preseason and it got better every day. I had a good week of practice. I was able to come in with a lot of energy, I was moving good, I was attacking."
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.
Barea and his bench buddies led the way for the Wolves, who will be without stars Ricky Rubio (left knee surgery) and Kevin Love (broken right hand) for at least the first month of the season. Greg Stiemsma hounded Cousins around the basket and had nine points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 16 minutes.
The Wolves shot 2-for-17 from three-point range.
"Offensively we have a long ways to go," Adelman said. "We missed a lot of shots but we stood with it in the fourth quarter and held them to 15 points and won the game. We did that in preseason and it worked again tonight."
Nikola Pekovic, who finished 2-for-8 from the field in a bruising matchup against Cousins, finally made his first basket with 4:10 left when he got loose on a fast break and dropped in a layup off a slick pass from Kirilenko to stretch the lead to 82-74 and finally give the home team a comfortable cushion again.
Cousins led the Kings in almost every significant statistical category last season, but with Pekovic and Stiemsma bothering him in the paint he had only 11 points and four rebounds. Evans, who had 21 points and eight rebounds in the Kings' opener, finished with six points on 3-for-14 shooting.
The Wolves built a 45-27 lead in the second quarter, but their inability to sink any outside shots caught up with them, and the lead shrunk to nine points by halftime. Then the Kings, with Thomas making three three-pointers in the period, came surging out of the locker room. The Wolves missed 10 of their first 12 shots in the second half.
The sharp-dressed men behind the bench - Rubio was in a charcoal suit coat; Love wore dark gray - could only watch while the errant shots piled up from all corners of the court. Some of it was simply bad luck, balls that rolled around the rim and inexplicably rolled out. Many of the misses looked like smart plays, but they just wouldn't go in.
"We were getting shots, you just have to finish them," Adelman said. "You shy away from the contact. You have to go to the basket and finish it. Go get the contact first and shoot it second. We were kind of going away from them and they are not going to give you that. So we have to do a better job."
The Kings have a streak of six consecutive losing seasons that coincides with the amount of time since Adelman was fired. Now he's with the Wolves, trying to turn them into the perennial playoff team he had in Sacramento.
Any improvement for the Kings this season will start with defense. They were by far the easiest team to score against in 2011-12, giving up an average of more than 104 points per game. They have shown at least a few signs this week they are more willing and capable of distracting their opponent enough to stay competitive. They lost 93-87 in Chicago two nights before.
After falling behind 61-56, 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 hustle by Chase Budinger and Dante Cunningham, the second group sure looked sharper than the first.
"We got up by five and I thought the momentum was on our side," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "I felt we took some quick shots because now they are chasing us and we've got to take good shots. That's a part of growing up with this team, not taking quick shots at that particular point, to focus on what you need at that moment. Obviously that didn't happen."
Adelman was stingy with playing time for Derrick Williams in his rookie season. But the second pick in last year's draft has the ability to score in bunches and the Wolves will need that punch while Love is out, so he took the All-Star's place at power forward.
Williams had all kinds of trouble finding an easy path to the basket and finishing his layups once he got there, but he wasn't the only one. Williams had eight points and seven rebounds.© The Associated Press